Florida on Alert: Leprosy Cases Surge, Risk of Endemic Outbreak Looms

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Posted in: Andy Oxide, Health, MPN, News
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Leprosy, an ancient and once rare disease, is making a dangerous comeback in the Sunshine State, and experts warn it could become endemic.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that leprosy cases in the Southeast U.S., with a high concentration in central Florida, are skyrocketing.

What was once considered a disease of the past is now a present-day threat, prompting health authorities to sound the alarm.

According to the CDC’s “Emerging Infectious Diseases journal,” Florida is witnessing a troubling surge in leprosy cases without the typical risk factors.

It’s no longer just immigrants from endemic regions who are affected; about 34% of reported cases between 2015 and 2020 were locally acquired. The situation is dire, and Florida is at the forefront of the crisis.

The numbers don’t lie. Over the past decade, reported leprosy cases nationwide have doubled, with 159 new cases in 2020.

Shockingly, nearly 70% of these new cases were found in just six states, including Florida.

Central Florida, in particular, stands out as a hotspot, accounting for a staggering 81% of cases reported in the state and almost 20% of all national cases.

This concentration of cases suggests that leprosy may be finding a permanent home in the region.

How is leprosy spreading, and what are the risks? Despite what many believe, leprosy is not transmitted through casual contact.

The CDC states that it likely spreads through droplets from coughs or sneezes during extended close contact with an infected person.

Additionally, contact with armadillos, which can carry leprosy-causing bacteria, might also pose a risk.

A recent report highlighted a puzzling leprosy case in Florida: a 54-year-old landscaper with no known contact with infected individuals or animals and no travel history to high-risk countries.

The authors of the new report suggested that doctors, nurses and other health professionals should think of leprosy as a potential diagnosis for patients who have spent time in Central Florida.

“Travel to this area, even in the absence of other risk factors, should prompt consideration of leprosy,” the report grimly said.

Now Floridians are grappling with the reality that leprosy may now be circulating within the local population.

So, what exactly is leprosy, and how did it come to Florida?

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae that primarily affects the skin and peripheral nervous system.

Records of leprosy date back to ancient times, around 600 B.C. in China and India. Although not highly contagious, leprosy can cause permanent nerve damage if left untreated.

The good news is that leprosy is treatable.

Doctors typically prescribe antibiotics, and patients are no longer infectious after a few days of treatment.

However, due to the slow growth of the bacteria, treatment must continue for one to two years to ensure complete eradication.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of leprosy is crucial for early detection.

Look out for pale or slightly red areas on the body, often accompanied by a loss of sensation in the affected area. Other symptoms include dry, stiff, and painful skin, along with thinning of eyebrows and eyelashes if the face is involved.

If left untreated, weakness in the muscles of the hands and feet can also occur.

As Florida faces this looming threat, health authorities recommend that physicians consider leprosy in patients who have traveled to the area, even without other risk factors.

Vigilance and awareness are key to containing the spread of this ancient but resurgent disease.

Our health officials, researchers, and communities must unite to combat this potential outbreak and protect the well-being of the population.

Read the original story here:
NBC News

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Cases CDC Central Florida Emerging Infectious Diseases Endemic Florida Hansen's Disease Immigrants Infection Leprosy Outbreak Risk Factors Southeast U.S. Travel

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