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Florida County Hit with New Leprosy Cases
- Updated: February 27, 2015
Most people think of third-world countries or Biblical times when they hear the word “leprosy” but a county in the state of Florida has been hit with recent cases of this disease. What makes this such a big deal is that leprosy is extremely rare but in the past five months, three people have been given a firm diagnosis.
In fact, in the past 10 years and not including the new cases, just one person in Florida came down with leprosy. According to state health officials, the new cases came as a surprise since there is an incubation period for this disease that ranges between nine months and 20 years. However, it is also for that reason that experts do not believe this signals any risk of an epidemic.
Also known a Hansen’s disease, leprosy results from a bacteria known as Mycobacterium lepra, which primarily involves the skin, as well as eyes, peripheral nervous system, and a portion of the upper respiratory tract.
As stated, leprosy in the US is rare, with only 90 people reporting infections annually, this according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For the state of Florida, the number of cases per year is around 10. In addition to Florida, leprosy has been seen in New York, Louisiana, Texas, California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii.
The three new cases have all been in Volusia County although health officials have confirmed an increase in diagnoses in Brevard County as well. Throughout the past five years, 18 cases of leprosy have been confirmed in that county. Last year, three of the eight reported cases were in Brevard County.
In a statement from Barry Inman, epidemiologist with the Brevard County Department of Health, overall the number of cases for leprosy is small but compared to 10 years ago, higher. Typically, just one case is diagnosed a year so this is a rare occurrence. Inman also stressed that tracking this disease is extremely difficult because of the long and varied incubation period.
Inman pointed out that interestingly, some of the people who have become infected with leprosy have at some time had an interaction with armadillos, which are known carriers. For that reason, the CDC advises people to restrict contact with armadillos and if possible, avoid the animal altogether.
The most common symptoms of the disease include a breakout of skin lesions that become discolored or fade, skin that is dry, stiff, or thick, ulcers on the soles of the feet, numbness in certain areas of the body, and muscle weakness or paralysis.
Because of leprosy, it is estimated that between one and two people have become permanently disabled. Fortunately, there are now antibiotics available that make a difference but usually, treatment takes anywhere from six months to two years to bring the infection under control.