Leprosy in Central Florida

Unravelling the Mystery of Leprosy in Central Florida: Surprising Hotspot
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The medical world is abuzz with the discovery of an unexpected hotspot for leprosy in Central Florida. When a 54-year-old landscaper visited an Orlando dermatology clinic with a puzzling rash, little did anyone know that it would lead to the revelation of a phenomenon that “you read in your textbooks”: leprosy. The mysterious rash, spreading from the man’s limbs to his face, prompted thorough biopsies, which confirmed the astonishing diagnosis.

Leprosy in Florida: A Surprising Prevalence

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae, which attacks nerves under the skin. The mode of transmission remains a topic of debate, but scientists believe that it spreads via droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The disease’s hallmark symptoms include numb lesions and rashes due to nerve involvement.

Historically, leprosy has been a rare disease in the United States, affecting mostly those who travel to regions with high leprosy rates or encounter armadillos that carry the disease. However, Central Florida has emerged as a surprising epicentre for leprosy, reporting among the highest rates in the country.

A Warning for Healthcare Providers

A research letter published by Dr Rajiv Nathoo and his colleagues in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases sheds light on this alarming trend. In 2020, there were 159 reported cases of leprosy nationwide, but Central Florida accounted for a staggering 81% of cases in Florida and nearly 1 out of 5 leprosy cases across the entire country.

The discovery of numerous biopsy-proven leprosy cases clustered in eastern Orlando and Volusia County over the past five years raises concerns about the disease’s endemic nature in the region. These cases have no apparent links to foreign travel or exposure to armadillos, challenging the traditional understanding of leprosy risk factors.

Dr Charles Dunn, a study author and chief resident at Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Clinics, emphasizes that the medical community should dispel assumptions about leprosy, as it doesn’t occur solely in foreign-born individuals or those in contact with armadillos. The lack of a definitive vector for leprosy complicates understanding how humans encounter the bacteria, making early diagnosis and containment challenging.

Endemic, but not a Cause for Panic

While experts agree that leprosy is becoming endemic in Central Florida, the term “endemic” simply means that there are regular levels of the disease in the region, rather than climbing rates. The number of leprosy cases is still relatively low in the area, providing reassurance that a public health panic is unwarranted.

Treatment Challenges and Delayed Diagnosis

Leprosy’s slow bacterial growth often results in delayed symptoms, taking up to 20 years to manifest fully. The disease’s stealthy progression makes it difficult to trace the source and spread of infection, leading to underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis. Leprosy is typically not a part of a dermatologist’s regular radar, making early detection a challenge.

A Long Road to Cure

The good news is that leprosy is curable with a combination of antibiotics taken over several years. However, delayed diagnosis can lead to complications, such as nerve and skin damage. Providers who identify leprosy are required to report it to the state health department promptly, initiating the contact-tracing process and specialized antibiotic treatment.


Central Florida’s surprising status as a leprosy hotspot has caught the attention of the medical community, prompting caution and vigilance among healthcare providers. While the disease is becoming endemic in the region, it is essential to remain informed and dispel misconceptions about its risk factors. Early diagnosis and reporting are crucial for effective treatment and containment.

As research continues to uncover the mysteries of leprosy transmission, healthcare providers must be prepared to recognize the symptoms and provide timely intervention. The medical community’s vigilance and awareness are key in managing this rare but potentially debilitating disease.

Photo By: Freepik

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