CDC Says Leprosy Cases Are Increasing Across Central Florida

Cases of leprosy have begun spreading across Central Florida, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which said the disease could be widespread in the area.

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is an infectious disease that causes skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and skin areas around a person’s body, according to WebMD.

The authors of the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) journal said Florida has “witnessed an increased incidence of leprosy cases lacking traditional risk factors,” with such trends leading to “rising evidence that leprosy has become endemic in the southeastern United States.”

“Travel to Florida should be considered when conducting leprosy contact tracing in any state,” the authors wrote.

Although leprosy is found to be rare in the U.S., with just 159 cases reported in 2020, the EID analysis noted that most are in central Florida.

Between 2015-2020, central Florida accounted for 81% of leprosy cases, with 34% of new patients acquiring the disease locally.

“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 EID said in its report. “However, since then, reports demonstrate a gradual increase in the incidence of leprosy in the United States.”

“Leprosy is here in the United States. It’s very low incidence and a very low endemic country, but it is here,” Linda Adams, chief of the National Hansen’s Disease Program (NHDP) Laboratory Research Branch, said.

One America News (OAN) reported that a 54-year-old landscaper was recently seen at a dermatology clinic in Orlando because of a rash that was painfully spreading throughout his body.

After doctors reviewed the man’s illness, results came back that the landscaper had leprosy, which was a diagnosis Dr. Rajiv Nathoo described as something “you read in your textbooks.”

“It’s really rare still,” Nathoo said. “These numbers are still relatively super low here. We’re not that concerned with it.”

Since leprosy is slow-spreading and rare, efforts to stop the disease have been hindered.

According to OAN, the only way to diagnose the disease is through biopsies. The outlet noted that the CDC’s report said physicians could aid in the process of reducing the spread of leprosy by reporting cases and supporting efforts to identify how the disease is transmitted.