Centers for Disease Control
© Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesInfectious disease agency suggests central portion of state may have become 'endemic location' for potentially debilitating disease. The CDC said the data represents ‘mounting epidemiological evidence supporting leprosy as an endemic process in the south-eastern United States’.
Leprosy cases are surging in Florida, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with a new report suggesting the central area of the state may have become an "endemic location" for the infectious, potentially debilitating disease.

There were 159 new cases of leprosy in the US in 2020, the most recent year for which data was studied, according to a report published on Monday by the CDC. Florida was among the top reporting states, and almost a fifth of all cases were reported in the state's central region.

Central Florida was responsible for 81% of the cases reported in the state.

Meanwhile, the number of reported cases of leprosy in the south-eastern US has more than doubled over the last decade, the CDC reported, with growing instances of people contracting leprosy within the country.

"Whereas leprosy in the United States previously affected persons who had immigrated from leprosy-endemic areas, [about] 34% of new case patients during 2015-20 appeared to have locally acquired the disease," the CDC said.

The CDC said the data represented "mounting epidemiological evidence supporting leprosy as an endemic process in the south-eastern United States".

Nationally, the number of reported leprosy cases in the US fell from 2019 to 2020, according to the federal Human Resources and Services Administration. The increase in central Florida, however, represents a new cause for concern.

"Travel to this area, even in the absence of other risk factors, should prompt consideration of leprosy in the appropriate clinical context," the CDC said.

Leprosy, which is spread by moisture droplets passed through the air, can lead to serious disabilities, including nerve damage, if left untreated. However, the disease is curable with medication, and damage can be prevented if leprosy is diagnosed in time.

The CDC cited the case of a 54-year-old man who lives in central Florida. The man had not traveled domestically or internationally, had not had "prolonged contact with immigrants from leprosy-endemic countries", and had denied exposure to armadillos, which are known to carry the disease.

The man, who has since been treated for leprosy, worked in landscaping, the CDC said, "and spends long periods of time outdoors".

"The absence of traditional risk factors in many recent cases of leprosy in Florida, coupled with the high proportion of residents, like our patient, who spend a great deal of time outdoors, supports the investigation into environmental reservoirs as a potential source of transmission," the CDC said.