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Orlando physicians who reported Central Florida leprosy trend 'want to allay the fears'

Chokniti Khongchum

The doctors hope the data helps other physicians whose patients have symptoms that align with leprosy but wouldn’t think to check for it. There have been 15 cases in Florida this year, mostly in Brevard.

A team of Orlando doctors has found an interesting trend: a rise in leprosy cases in Florida with most new cases concentrated in the Central Florida area.

Central Florida accounted for 81 percent of leprosy cases reported in Florida and almost one-fifth of nationally reported cases in 2022.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week published the doctors' research letter detailing their data.

Dr. Charles Dunn, who reported the findings with a team of doctors, says this shouldn’t cause alarm or panic. Leprosy is not highly contagious and it’s easily treated.

If anything, he hopes this information is empowering to doctors whose patients have symptoms that align with leprosy, but wouldn’t normally think to check for it.

Dr. Rajiv Nathoo, who was also on the team, echoes this sentiment. The data should be used to get patients the answers they need if they have symptoms and haven't been able to find a diagnosis.

"We want to allay the fears of anyone. This paper wasn't written for the purpose of [causing fear]. It was primarily written for physicians to just be mindful of having Central Florida in mind," said Nathoo. "You didn't travel? But you have features of leprosy? Don't tunnel-vision yourself and say it can't be leprosy because you didn't travel."

Both Nathoo and Dunn say the disease itself is slow-growing and in most cases requires constant contact for a prolonged period to contract it.

Dunn said about 95 percent of the population is already immune to leprosy, which is why it takes a perfect storm to get it.

“A contagious patient, you need a susceptible person, and you need close contact with that person and by close contact, this is not you know, sitting in the bus with them, shaking hands with them, hugging, sitting together at a meal," said Dunn. "This is prolonged contact over the course of months to really kind of contract illness."

There are a group of patients, however, who should be extra cautious: People who are immunocompromised can be at a higher risk for leprosy.

Symptoms of the disease include discolored patches of skin that may be numb and look faded, raised nodules, painless ulcers on the feet, painless lumps on the face or earlobes, and a loss of eyebrows or eyelashes. If you think you have symptoms, contact your primary care provider.

If left untreated, leprosy can cause paralysis in the hands and feet, blindness and deformities of the nose caused by damage to the septum.

There have been 15 cases of leprosy in Florida this year. The majority are in Brevard County.

Nathoo and Dunn are affiliated with the Kansas City University-Graduate Medical Education/Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Consortium in Orlando.

Learn more about leprosyhere.

Read the paperhere.
Copyright 2023 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Danielle Prieur