Florida health officials yesterday, in an effort to facilitate media interviews concerning the much published leprosy news, provided a YouTube informational video concerning Hansen’s disaese, or leprosy with Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Carina Blackmore (watch HERE, unfortunately, we are unable to hear the questions).
The one thing Blackmore said that was not standard was concerning the issue with armadillos. She says, “We also know that the strain that these leprosy-carrying armadillos have is “unique”.
“Some of the Floridians that have caught leprosy have also been infected with this unique strain, which suggests there is some kind of connection between armadillos and people infected with leprosy.
“What that connection is and how people are getting infected is not really well known at this point.”
The Florida Department of Health reported in a press release Friday, which has been published in every news source, that so far in 2015, nine cases have been reported in Florida residents.
However, here at Outbreak News Today, we’ve reported that the case count is now at 12. This is based on data from communicable disease cases reportable by law to the Florida Department of Health.
Hansen’s disease has been reported in Florida since 1921. Up until 1975, an average of four cases were reported each year, with 80% of the 226 cases occurring in persons residing in Monroe, Dade and Hillsborough Counties at the time of onset. Another 82 cases were reported during the next two decades (1976-95).
A 2011 genetic study on the link between the zoonotic infection and armadillos was published and concluded that armadillos may be a source of infection in the Southern United States.
“Leprosy has been feared throughout human history, and there are still regions in several countries, including in the southern United States, where new cases of this disease continue to occur,” said Richard W. Truman, Ph.D., Research Scientist at the National Hansen’s Disease Program (NHDP). “The results of this study will help us better understand where some of these infections originate.”
Armadillos are the only other known natural hosts of leprosy bacteria.
The NHDP does note that the risk of transmission from animals to humans is low, but armadillos are wild animals and should be treated as such, with all proper precautions.
The United States sees approximately 150 to 250 leprosy cases annually. 213 new cases were reported in the U.S. in 2009 (the most recent year for which data are available).
During the ten-year-period of 2004 to 2014, Florida reported 92 cases, averaging less than 10 per year.
Leprosy is a chronic bacterial disease that primarily affects the skin, peripheral nerves and upper airway. Feared as a highly contagious and devastating disease, it is well established that Hansen’s disease (leprosy) is not highly transmissible, is very treatable, and, with early diagnosis and treatment, is not disabling.
Leprosy remains the most misunderstood human infectious disease. The stigma long associated with the disease still exists in most of the world and the psychological and social effects may be more difficult to deal with than the actual physical illness.