Leprosy is still found in the United States where a couple hundred cases are reported annually mostly from Florida, Texas, Louisiana and California.

Iowa Image/National Atlas of the United States
Image/National Atlas of the United States

It is not an infectious disease you see everyday in Woodbury County, Iowa, or in Iowa generally (<10 cases in two decades); however, according to the Iowa Department of Health, a case had been confirmed in February.

Further details of the case were not published.

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.

LISTEN: Richard W. Truman, Ph.D., Chief, Laboratory Research Branch with the National Hansen’s Disease Program discusses Leprosy in the US

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.

Research in the journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases shows that the nine-banded armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus), animals that naturally carry the leprosy bacterium, Mycobacterium leprae and have been linked to zoonotic infections, have spread their geography to affect more areas of the  southeastern United States.

Feared as a highly contagious and devastating disease, it is well established that 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.