Leprosy in Florida


Three people have been diagnosed with Leprosy in the last five months in Volusia County, Florida. Leprosy is an old disease that has been recorded since 600 B.C. in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, India and China. The first effective treatment was reported in the 1940’s. A drug called, Dapsone was created. However, the bacteria was able to develop a resistance to the drug in the 1960’s.

The disease has been eliminated from 119 countries since 1985. There have been no reported resistances to the multi-drug treatment during that time. The treatment needs to be fully integrated into general services to be ready when ample care will be available when it is needed.

In the past five years, there have been 18 cases of Leprosy, eight were in Brevard County. Not including the three current conditions, only one person has had leprosy in Florida. Leprosy has an incubation period of anywhere between nine months to 20 years so health officials are shocked but do not believe there is a risk of an epidemic.

Leprosy, also called, Hansen’s disease, comes from the bacteria, Mycobacterium lepra. The bacteria mostly attacks the skin, the peripheral nervous system, the eyes, and part of the upper respiratory tract. Leprosy is extremely rare in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are only 90 reported infections each year. Besides Florida, Leprosy has been seen in New York, Louisiana, California, Texas, Massachusetts and Hawaii.

The disease is difficult to track because of his extensive incubation period. The number of cases of Leprosy is small but higher than it was ten years ago. However, two of the people, in Florida, who have been infected most recently with Leprosy have had interactions with nine-banded armadillos, which are known carriers.

Common symptoms include skin lesions that change color or fade, stiff, dry, thick skin, ulcers on the bottom of the feet, muscle weakness or paralysis and numbness in areas of the body. Over time, Leprosy can cause the skin, bone and cartilage to become disfigured. Claw hands and collapsed facial features are common in the later stages. Occasionally Leprosy has caused permanent disability. There are now antibiotics that can make a difference but it takes treatment six months to two years to get the infection under control.

The majority of humans are not affected by the bacteria. It is transmitted through droplets that can come from the mouth, nose, and close contact with someone who has not been medically treated for the bacteria.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states there were 189,018 known cases and 232,857 new cases diagnosed across the world in 2012. Leprosy is still widely present in Brazil, Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire, China, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, India, Burma, Madagascar, Nigeria, Nepal, Shri Lanka, Philippines and Tanzania. Each reports about 1,000 cases a year.

Especially if caught early, Leprosy is curable. However, if left untreated, it will cause progressive and permanent damage to the eyes, nerves, limbs and skin. That is why doctors are not concerned of an epidemic in Florida, the Leprosy was caught early and is being treated. Since 1995, there has been a multi-drug therapy treatment. 16 million patients that have been diagnosed with Leprosy, have since been cured.

By Jeanette Smith


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Photo courtesy of Iwishmynamewasmarsha – License

Photo courtesy of Donna Todd – License

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