In a follow-up to a report two weeks ago concerning possible leprosy cases in two students at Indian Hills Elementary in Jurupa Valley, California, Riverside County Public Health says laboratory testing  on one of the children, performed by the National Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) Laboratory Research Program in Baton Rouge, was positive for the bacterial disease.

Public domain image/National Atlas of the United States
Public domain image/National Atlas of the United States

A second child was suspected of having the illness but there is no indication at this time that the youngster was infected, said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer. “None of our recommendations to the school or parents have changed,” Kaiser said. “It is incredibly difficult to contract leprosy. The school was safe before this case arose and it still is.”

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

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.

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.

175 new cases were reported in the U.S. in 2014 (the most recent year for which data are available). Most (128 or 73%) of these new cases were reported in Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, New York and Texas.