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Leprosy cases on the rise in Central Florida, prompting concerns of endemic spread

Health officials report an increase in leprosy cases in Central Florida, raising concerns about the disease becoming endemic in the region

Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, is showing an alarming resurgence in Central Florida, with health officials suspecting it may now be endemic to the region. A recent report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns of a spike in leprosy cases in the state, indicating a constant presence of the disease. Leprosy requires close and prolonged contact with an untreated individual for transmission, and most people are not susceptible to infection. However, the number of confirmed cases in Florida has increased significantly, prompting concerns about potential spread.

The alarming surge in leprosy cases raises endemic fears

The latest data from Florida's health department reveals a concerning surge in leprosy cases, with 16 cases confirmed so far in 2023 - 11 more than the same period in 2022. Leprosy, although easily curable with treatment, can cause severe complications if left untreated, including blindness and paralysis of the feet and hands. The CDC reports that the U.S. sees an average of 150 to 250 leprosy cases annually, with Florida ranking among the states with the highest incidence.

A woman with leprosy

Leprosy: from decline to resurgence in Central Florida

Historically, leprosy cases were high during 1983 in the U.S., followed by a substantial reduction in documented cases until the early 2000s. However, the southeastern U.S. has experienced a concerning trend of increasing leprosy cases over the past decade, with Florida being a prominent hotspot. The recent report suggests that leprosy cases may now be endemic in Central Florida, meaning it is consistently present in the areas including Volusia, Brevard, Highlands, Flagler, Bay, Charlotte, Palm Beach, Bradford, Seminole, Pinellas, and Polk. This differs from a pandemic, as endemic diseases are relatively contained and can be addressed with targeted prevention measures.

While the exact reasons behind the resurgence of leprosy in Central Florida remain unclear, researchers highlight a rise in cases without traditional risk factors, such as travel outside the United States or direct contact with known infected individuals.

This news article is based on a report by the Miami Herald.

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