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Alarm raised over rising cases of leprosy in Florida

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Alarm raised over rising cases of leprosy in Florida. Representational image.
Alarm raised over rising cases of leprosy in Florida. Representational image. 

Florida is witnessing a concerning surge in leprosy cases, with Central Florida being at the forefront of this alarming trend, according to recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Nearly 20% of reported leprosy cases in the United States are coming from the centre of the state.

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease that affects the skin and peripheral nervous system. In the southeastern states, the number of reported leprosy cases has more than doubled over the past decade.

The CDC points out that Central Florida has accounted for a striking 81% of reported cases in the state and nearly one-fifth of cases nationwide. Even more concerning is the fact that several new cases in this region show no clear evidence of traditional risk factors or zoonotic exposure.

Historically, leprosy has been relatively uncommon in the United States, but since the 1980s, there has been a gradual increase in its incidence. The CDC data shows that Florida, along with California, Louisiana, Hawaii, New York, and Texas, reported the highest number of new leprosy cases in 2020.

Leprosy is a reportable disease in Florida, meaning that practitioners are required to report cases to the Florida Department of Health immediately. Contact tracing becomes crucial to identifying sources and reducing transmission.

The disease is caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae, and its symptoms include patches of discolored skin, numbness, muscle weakness, eye problems, a blocked nose, nosebleeds, and ulcers on the soles of the feet. If left untreated, leprosy can cause progressive nerve damage, weakness, and the breakdown of limbs and facial features. However, timely treatment with antibiotics can effectively clear the infection.

Experts stressed the importance of early diagnosis and prompt treatment to prevent severe complications and control the spread of leprosy. The CDC recommends considering travel to Florida when conducting leprosy contact tracing in any state, indicating the potential risk of transmission beyond state borders.

Health officials urge residents to be aware of the symptoms of leprosy and to seek medical attention if they suspect they might have contracted the disease. With vigilance, timely reporting, and appropriate treatment, the authorities aim to curb the rise of leprosy cases in Florida and protect public health.

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