Florida sees increase in leprosy cases, CDC publication says

Central Florida has accounted for 81% of reported cases in state
leprosy in 54-year-old central Florida man
Posted at 11:57 AM, Aug 01, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Leprosy is on the rise in Florida, according to a new medical report in a Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention publication.

According to a research letter published for the August edition of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, Florida "has witnessed an increased incidence of leprosy cases lacking traditional risk factors."

"Those trends, in addition to decreasing diagnoses in foreign-born persons, contribute to rising evidence that leprosy has become endemic in the southeastern United States," the case report said. "Travel to Florida should be considered when conducting leprosy contact tracing in any state."

According to the study, central Florida has accounted for 81% of reported cases in the state and almost one-fifth of reported cases nationwide.

"Leprosy has been historically uncommon in the United States; incidence peaked around 1983, and a drastic reduction in the annual number of documented cases occurred from the 1980s through 2000," the study said. "However, since then, reports demonstrate a gradual increase in the incidence of leprosy in the United States. The number of reported cases has more than doubled in the southeastern states over the last decade."

Florida was among the top reporting states for new cases in 2020, according to the National Hansen's Disease Program.

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Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, is a chronic infection caused by slow-growing bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. It mainly affects the skin, eyes, nose and nerves. If left untreated, the nerve damage can result in blindness, paralysis, and the crippling of hands and feet.

According to the study, a 54-year-old man was treated at a dermatology clinic for a painful rash caused by leprosy. When asked, the man said he had lived in central Florida his whole life, didn't travel, had no exposure to armadillos, which are known to carry the disease, had no contact with immigrants from leprosy-endemic countries and had no connection with anyone known to have leprosy.

The study supports the theory that "international migration of persons with leprosy is a potential source of autochthonous transmission." However, the rate of new cases in people born outside of the U.S. has been declining since 2002.

"This information suggests that leprosy has become an endemic disease process in Florida, warranting further research into other methods of autochthonous transmission," the study said.

The research letter was written by Dr. Aashni Bhukhan, Dr. Charles Dunn and Dr. Rajiv Nathoo.