Is There Leprosy in The US?

Is There Leprosy in The US?



Though rare, there are cases of leprosy every year in the United States. Around 150 to 250 cases per year are diagnosed in the US. Most cases in the US involve people who have lived in areas where leprosy is more prevalent.

What is Leprosy?

Leprosy is also known as Hansen’s disease. It is caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. Mycobacterium leprae is a bacterium that is slow growing and could take up to 20 years to show signs of infection. The disease can attack the nerves, skin, eyes, and nasal mucosa.

Transmission

A prolonged period of contact is necessary for an affected person to spread the disease to another person. It cannot be passed from mother to unborn child or sexual transmission. Because the bacterium is slow growing, it is hard to find the start of infection. Armadillos in the southern US may be a source of transmission as some carry the disease.

Hansen’s disease, closeup hands of old man suffering from leprosy, amputated hands

Symptoms

Leprosy can cause skin, nerve, and mucous membrane symptoms.

  • Symptoms of the mucous membranes include:
    • Nosebleeds
    • Stuffy nose
  • Symptoms of the skin include:
    • Dry skin
    • Patches of skin that are lighter or darker
    • Painless ulcers on the feet
    • Painless swelling on the face
    • Loss of eyebrows/eyelashes
  • Symptoms of the nerves include:
    • Numbness
    • Muscle weakness or paralysis
    • Enlarged nerves
    • Eye problems that could potentially cause blindness

Diagnosis

Leprosy can be suspected by patches of skin that are lighter or darker than other areas of the skin. This skin can be biopsied and put under a microscope to look for the bacteria.

Treatment

Leprosy can be treated by multi-drug antibiotic therapy. The usual antibiotics are dapsone and rifampicin. Clofazimine can be added in some cases. Treatment must be continued for one to two years. Leprosy can be cured if diagnosed and treated early.

Summary:

  • Leprosy Incidence in the US: Around 150 to 250 cases of leprosy are diagnosed in the United States each year, primarily in individuals with a history of living in areas where the disease is more common.
  • Nature and Causes of Leprosy: Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, is caused by the slow-growing bacterium Mycobacterium leprae, with symptoms manifesting over up to 20 years. It affects the nerves, skin, eyes, and nasal mucosa.
  • Transmission and Source: Leprosy requires prolonged contact for transmission, excluding mother-to-child or sexual transmission. Armadillos in the southern US may serve as a source of transmission due to some carrying the disease.
  • Symptoms: Symptoms include mucous membrane issues (nosebleeds, stuffy nose), skin manifestations (dry patches, painless ulcers, swelling), and nerve-related symptoms (numbness, weakness, enlarged nerves, potential blindness).
  • Diagnosis and Treatment: Diagnosis involves identifying distinctive skin patches, followed by biopsy and microscopic examination. Multidrug antibiotic therapy, including dapsone and rifampicin, with potential addition of clofazimine, is effective if administered early and continued for one to two years.

This article reviewed by Dr. Jim Liu, MD and Ms. Deb Dooley, APRN.

There’s nothing more important than our good health – that’s our principal capital asset.

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