For the period of January through February last year, Florida health officials reported five confirmed leprosy, or Hansen’s disease cases. To date in 2017, that tally has dropped to only two, according to Florida Department of Health data.
The two cases were reported in Brevard County (Merritt Island) and Osceola County (Kissimmee).
Hansen’s disease, formerly known as leprosy, is caused by Mycobacterium leprae (M. leprae )bacteria. The infection has also been identified in nine-banded armadillos. Approximately 95 percent of people are resistant to infection; people who develop clinical illness can experience a wide range of clinical manifestations, but typically develop infections involving the skin, peripheral nerves and nasal mucosa.
Although the mode of transmission of Hansen’s disease is not clearly defined, most investigators believe that M. leprae is usually spread person-to-person in respiratory droplets following extended close contact with an infected person, such as living in the same household. Extended close contact with infected armadillos may also pose exposure risk to M. leprae. For many cases, the exposure causing the infection is unknown because it can take months or years for illness to develop. In Florida, between 2 and 12 cases are reported each year.
Hansen’s Disease, or leprosy, continues to be a rare condition. It is advised that people avoid interacting with any wild animals, including armadillos.