Central Florida has emerged as a concerning hotspot for leprosy, as cases of the ancient disease have doubled in the region over the last decade. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an alert, raising awareness about the surge of locally-acquired leprosy cases in the area.
According to the CDC’s research letter, central Florida accounts for a staggering 81% of reported leprosy cases in the state and a fifth of all cases in the entire United States. This alarming trend has health authorities on high alert and urging vigilance in detecting and managing the disease.
Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is typically brought into the US by immigrants from regions where the disease is endemic. However, the CDC revealed that more than a third of the cases reported in the southeastern US between 2015 and 2020 were acquired locally, indicating a growing concern for transmission within the country.
A recent example highlighted in the CDC’s release involved a man who sought treatment at a dermatology clinic in central Florida for a painful rash that initially appeared on his extremities but eventually spread to his torso and face. Notably, the man had not traveled abroad or within the US, nor had he been in contact with immigrants or known leprosy patients, leading health experts to believe he contracted the disease in the region.
“Our case adds to the growing body of literature suggesting that central Florida represents an endemic location for leprosy,” stated the CDC. The agency further emphasized that travel to the area, even in the absence of other risk factors, should prompt medical professionals to consider leprosy in the appropriate clinical context.
Leprosy, one of the oldest known diseases dating back to at least 600 BC, is primarily found in tropical and subtropical regions, including Brazil, India, and parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. It is believed to spread through prolonged contact with an infected person, causing painful rashes and skin discoloration. If left untreated, the disease can lead to severe complications, including muscle wastage, nerve damage, and paralysis.
Fortunately, leprosy has been curable with antibiotics since the mid-20th century. However, timely detection and treatment are essential to prevent permanent disfigurement or physical impairment in patients.
The number of reported leprosy cases in the US peaked in 1983 but drastically reduced until the early 2000s. However, the situation has taken a concerning turn in the southeastern US, where cases have more than doubled in the last decade. This increase contrasts with the nationwide trend, which has remained relatively stable, with annual cases ranging from 160 to 216 per year. In 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services reported around 159 cases in the US.
Globally, the number of leprosy cases reported annually has significantly declined since the 1980s, when it exceeded 5 million cases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of cases had reduced to 200,000 by 2020.
The CDC’s alert highlights the importance of continuous monitoring and public health measures to address the resurgence of leprosy cases in central Florida. Swift and appropriate actions can help mitigate the impact of the disease and prevent further transmission within the community.
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