A surge in leprosy cases has been reported in the southeastern United States, especially Florida, over the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Leprosy or Hansen's Disease is a chronic infectious disease that has been around since ancient times. An infection with leprosy-causing bacteria – Mycobacterium leprae – may lead to severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs and skin areas around the body.

WHO estimates that approximately 208,000 people live with leprosy around the globe. Around 100 people are diagnosed with the disease every year in the U.S.

"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. Central Florida, in particular, accounted for 81% of cases reported in Florida and almost one-fifth of nationally reported cases," the CDC said in a research letter.

It suggests that leprosy has become endemic in the southeastern U.S. "Travel to Florida should be considered when conducting leprosy contact tracing in any state," the agency said.

Out of 15 confirmed cases of leprosy in Florida, most were from Brevard County. Health practitioners in Florida have been asked to report the cases to the Florida Department of Health.

Signs of leprosy:

  • Discolored or red skin patches
  • Lack of sensation in the skin patches
  • Thick or stiff skin
  • Numbness or tingling sensation in hands, feet, arms, and legs.
  • Painless ulcers on the hands and feet.
  • Muscle weakness
  • Enlarged nerves
  • Stuffy nose and nose bleeds


If left untreated, leprosy can lead to permanent nerve damage, paralysis, disfigurement, blindness and shortening of toes and fingers due to reabsorption. It can also cause erectile dysfunction, infertility, inflammation of the iris (iritis), hair loss and loss of eyebrows.


Although leprosy was earlier considered a highly contagious disease, experts now believe transmission occurs only through prolonged close contact. The disease spreads through the droplets from coughs or sneezes of an infected person. Certain species of armadillo can carry leprosy and spread it to humans. However, leprosy does not transmit just by shaking hands, hugging or sitting next to the infected person for a meal or during travel.

The bacteria causing the disease also does not transmit through sexual contact or from mother to unborn child. Most people have a natural immunity to leprosy-causing bacteria and only 5% of all people are vulnerable to the disease.


Leprosy is curable if diagnosed and treated early. The multidrug therapy for leprosy involves the long-term use of two to three different antibiotics to prevent antibiotic resistance in patients. The treatment usually lasts for six months to one year.