A case report last week in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID), suggests leprosy, or Hansen’s disease is becoming endemic in the US Southeast, including Florida.
The report notes that the number of reported cases has more than doubled in the southeastern states over the last decade.
Authors say Florida is witnessing an increase in leprosy cases lacking traditional risk factors and no clear evidence of zoonotic exposure.
We looked at the numbers provided by the Florida Department of Health from 2013 to July 29, 2023 (nearly 10 years) and found Florida has reported 191 leprosy cases during this period.
Of this number, the 13 Florida counties that are traditionally considered Central Florida–Brevard, Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Seminole, Sumter, and Volusia–accounted for 140 cases, or 73 percent of the total.
Three counties accounted for 113 cases during this same period–Brevard (87), Polk (13) and Volusia (13).
According to the National Hansen’s Disease Program, 159 new cases were reported in the U.S. in 2020 (the most recent year for which data are available). Of this, 27 cases were reported in Florida (17%) and 22 cases were reported from the 13 Central Florida states (13.8%).
The EID report rules out the increase being due to international migration of persons with leprosy is a potential source of autochthonous transmission and say what is known supports the investigation into environmental reservoirs as a potential source of transmission.
The authors conclude with recommending that travel to Florida be considered when conducting leprosy contact tracing in any state.
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