In the August 2023 issue of the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a case report on leprosy in Central Florida.
This report examines the growing number of leprosy cases in the United States since 2000, with a specific case study of a 54-year-old male patient. The study was conducted by Drs. Aashni Bhukhan, Charles Dunn, and Rajiv Nathoo from Kansas City University.
Leprosy in Central Florida
Florida, in particular, stands out, with leprosy cases increasingly affecting residents compared to migrants. The diagnosed incidence in Florida residents has been surpassing that of foreign-born individuals since 1998, creating a distinctive domestic issue. Central Florida is at the epicenter of this alarming trend, accounting for approximately 81% of all leprosy cases in Florida.
Additionally, Brevard County has seen a rise in leprosy cases, making up 20 out of the 159 cases in the United States. The authors argue that due to the high proportion of cases and increased occurrences among Florida residents with no clear transmission mechanisms, central Florida can now be classified as an endemic location for leprosy.
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Possible Transmission Routes
Leprosy transmission remains a puzzle. Historically, cases in Florida involved individuals migrating from endemic areas, such as parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, and Brazil. However, this trend has shifted, with cases in U.S. residents on the rise. While we usually think of leprosy spreading through prolonged close contact and respiratory droplets, the authors of the report also point out a possible connection to international migration, given the increase in the number of international migrants in North America.
Contact tracing plays a pivotal role in identifying sources and reducing transmission. However, recent leprosy cases in Florida have baffled investigators, as they revealed no traditional risk factors, such as travel history, zoonotic exposure, or direct personal contacts. This has prompted investigations into environmental reservoirs as potential sources of transmission.
While the rising leprosy cases in central Florida are cause for concern, medical experts emphasize that leprosy is not highly contagious and can be effectively treated. They hope this information encourages physicians to consider leprosy when evaluating patients with compatible symptoms, ultimately leading to faster diagnoses and treatment.
However, individuals with compromised immune systems should exercise caution, as they are at a higher risk of contracting leprosy. Symptoms include discolored skin patches, raised nodules, painless foot ulcers, painless facial or earlobe lumps, and loss of eyebrows or eyelashes. Early detection and treatment are pivotal in preventing severe complications such as paralysis, blindness, and deformities.
Need for Leprosy Awareness
The case report only adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests central Florida is an endemic location for leprosy. The key takeaway from this situation is the pressing need for heightened awareness and the prompt reporting of leprosy cases.
We also need more research to figure out how leprosy spreads when traditional risk factors are not present. This involves looking into places where the bacteria might live and other ways it can be passed on. Better research can help stop the disease from spreading.
The Current Situation
As of now, there have been 15 reported cases of leprosy in Florida in 2023, primarily concentrated in Brevard County. Medical professionals affiliated with the Kansas City University-Graduate Medical Education/Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Consortium in Orlando are closely monitoring the situation.
Always remember, seeking prompt medical attention if you suspect any related symptoms is essential for early diagnosis and effective treatment. Stay informed, stay safe and take care of your health.
Q : Is leprosy highly contagious?
A : No, leprosy is not highly contagious. It typically requires prolonged close contact with an untreated person for transmission.
Q : Can leprosy be cured?
A : Yes, leprosy is treatable with antibiotics. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to preventing complications.
Q : What are the common symptoms of leprosy?
A : Symptoms often include discolored skin patches, painless lumps, and ulcers. Numbness in affected areas can also occur.