Over the past five months, health authorities report that three new cases of leprosy were diagnosed in Volusia County, Florida, suggesting that this disease might not be as ancient as we had hoped. Before identifying these three new patients as infected with the disease, only one single case of leprosy had been diagnosed in Volusia in the last 10 years.
Two of the three newly-diagnosed cases, health officials explain, have been linked to recent contact with the only known animal carrier of Mycobacterium Leprae (the causing agent of the disease) in the US, nine-banded armadillos.
This chronic disease also known as Hansen’s disease manifests with a plethora of symptoms, from nerve granulomas and respiratory tract granulomas, to skin and eye lesions, sensitivity issues (patients often lack the ability of feeling pain) weakness and even poor eyesight. Transmission occurs when infected individuals come in contact with healthy people, although not every person is susceptible to the disease.
Officials note that the disease has a particularly long and inconstant incubation period. Ranging from nine months to 20 years, leprosy may present with a significant delay from the moment of infection, so that an epidemiologic analysis it that much more difficult. It’s because of this particular incubation pattern, health officials say, that a new wave of infections isn’t likely.
Although extremely rare in modern times, leprosy represented a true challenge for healthcare practitioners in the past, as the disease was not only contagious but also quite difficult to handle. Nowadays, a fast diagnosis paired-up with early treatment are usually enough to prevent morbidity and the disabilities which usually follow the disease.
The disease’s Hebrew name is “tsara’ath”, which would translate to unclean. In ancient times, people carried the unfounded belief that leprosy patients had performed acts which deemed them physically or spiritually “unclean” and deserving of God’s wrath.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show that approximately 80 cases of leprosy are reported yearly within the United States, and Florida normally sees a maximum of 8 to 10 cases per year. Other states are more frequently affected, Department of Health and Human Services’ 2009 report shows. Among these states are California, Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, Hawaii and New York.
As an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests, armadillo may indeed be the infection’s source, as these animals are the sole carrier of Mycobacterium Leprae in the US.
Although most humans within the US are immune to the causing agent of leprosy, there is a possibility of transmission, and health officials advise citizens to avoid contact with armadillos. A course of antibiotics paired with a Multidrug therapy regimen comprised of Dapsone, Rifampicin and Clofazimine is considered the most effective treatment option. Ranging from 6 months to 2 years, this treatment course can not only be used during the acute phases of the infections but also in chronic forms.
Exposure to infected people should be followed by immediate medical attention as well as a rapid administration of antibiotics.
Over the last five years, Brevard County, Volusia’s neighbor, has also experienced an increase in leprosy cases. In fact, of the eight leprosy cases diagnosed with leprosy in 2014, three stemmed from Brevard. The disease is particularly difficult to track, Barry Inman, Brevard County Health Department epidemiologist explains, because of the illness’s inconstant incubation time.
Image Source: Animalspot
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