After reporting 27 confirmed leprosy, or Hansen’s disease cases in 2015, significantly higher than the average of 10 cases seen most years, the start of 2016 appears to be a continuation of last year as Florida health officials report seeing five confirmed cases during the first five weeks of the year.

Armadillos in leprosy research/CDC
Armadillos in leprosy research/CDC

From the beginning of the year through today, confirmed cases have been reported from Martin County (Stuart), Bay County (Panama City) and three in Brevard County (Merritt Island (2) and Titusville (1)).

The Florida Department of Health case definition for a confirmed case of leprosy is a clinically compatible illness in a person with confirmatory laboratory evidence.

During the ten-year-period of 2004 to 2014, Florida reported 92 cases, averaging less than 10 per year.

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

Newly published 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.

According to the National Hansen’s Disease Program, 294 new cases were reported in the U.S. in 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available).

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 earlydiagnosis 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.