Leprosy Outbreaks In Florida Spark CDC Response

A Biblical disease is apparently breaking out in central Florida, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning that it’s becoming an epidemic.

Cases of leprosy, which a lot of people associate with age-old Biblical stories, are rising quickly in Central Florida. According to a research letter that was published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal – a publication run by the CDC – Central Florida accounted for 81% of all cases of leprosy reported in Florida, and nearly 20% of the cases reported across the U.S.

In 2020, the U.S. reported a total of 159 new cases of leprosy, according to the National Hansen’s Disease Program. Leprosy is also called Hansen’s disease.

As the authors of the letter wrote:

“Leprosy has been historically uncommon in the United States; incidents peaked around 1983, and a drastic reduction in the annual number of documented cases occurred from the 1980s through 2000. However, since then, reports demonstrate a gradual increase in the incidence of leprosy in the United states.

“The number of reported cases has more than doubled in the southeastern states over the last decade.”

Eight years ago, Florida was at the center of another leprosy outbreak. At the time, armadillos were blamed by experts for carrying and then spreading infections throughout the state.

Leprosy is a bacterial disease that will affect both the nerves and skin. It happens when Mycobacterium leprae, a bacteria, attacks the body’s nerves, which then can become swollen underneath the skin.

As the CDC explained:

“This can cause the affected areas to lose the ability to sense touch and pain, which can lead to injuries, like cuts and burns. Usually, the affected skin changes color.”

Advanced cases of the infection can lead to people losing toes and fingers, and even becoming disfigured.

During Biblical times, it was believed that leprosy was highly contagious and devastating to people. Since then, knowledge around the disease has grown considerably, as it’s been discovered that it is treatable.

Despite this, there still exists much stigma around leprosy. As the CDC says:

“Those suffering from it are isolated and discriminated against in many places where the disease is seen.”

Every year, there are in excess of 200,000 new leprosy cases reported in 120 countries, according to the World Health Organization. The countries with the highest number of cases typically include Indonesia, India and Brazil.

The CDC reports that in the U.S., roughly 150 new infections happen every year.

To treat leprosy, doctors will typically prescribe two or three antibiotics. One of the biggest keys to successfully treating the disease is early diagnosis.

That’s because that, while treatment can both cure leprosy and prevent it from getting any worse, it isn’t able to reverse any nerve damage that might have occurred already.

As the CDC says:

“Treatment usually lasts between one to two years. The illness can be cured if treatment is completed as prescribed.”