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International News: Florida experiences new leprosy plague: What does it mean for Belize?

Posted: Tuesday, August 1, 2023. 7:26 pm CST.

By Celeste Chang: A new research paper, published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal, found that reported cases of leprosy doubled in the Southeastern United States over the last 10 years, according to NBC News.

Central Florida in particular has seen a disproportionate share of cases, which specify that this just might be an endemic location for the disease.  According to the National Hansen’s Disease Program, 159 new cases were reported in the United States in 2020; Florida was among the top reporting states, accounting for almost 20% of cases in the US. So far in 2023, there are 15 reported cases in Florida. This simply means that leprosy has been a regular presence within the region’s population rather than popping up in the form of one-off outbreaks.

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a rare type of bacterial infection that attacks the nerves and can cause swelling under the skin. It can spread from persont to person but not through daily physical contact, like shaking hands or sitting next to a person on the bus, according to the CDC. Scientists speculate that the bacteria gets transmitted through droplets from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes during a prolonged period of close contact.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by a type of bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae. The disease predominantly affects the skin and peripheral nerves. Left untreated, the disease may cause progressive and permanent disabilities. The bacteria are transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth during close and frequent contact with untreated cases. Leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT).”

Belize, which depends on tourism for 40 percent of its economy, receives approximately half a million tourists per year, 60 percent of those coming from America, including Florida. There is a risk of exposure to industry workers and ultimately to the rest of the population, which may trigger a high-volume spread of the disease.

The Ministry of Health, which normally issues alerts on diseases which may affect Belize, has yet to comment on this report.


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