In a follow-up to a report from February on the leprosy situation in Florida in 2016, updated data from the Department of Health shows the case tally has risen to 14 through Sep. 22.

The case count, all confirmed, are broken down by county as follows: Alachua (1), Bay (1), Brevard (8), Broward (1), Martin (1), Seminole (1) and Volusia (1). In Brevard County, three cases were reported from Merritt Island.


In 2015, Florida saw 27 confirmed leprosy cases, including 11 in Brevard County.

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

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.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 32 Hansen’s disease cases through Sep. 17; however, the federal health agency notes that leprosy is not reportable in all reporting jurisdictions.

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.

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.

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.