Although leprosy rates are on the rise in Florida, travellers heading to the sunshine state have a minimal risk of contracting the disease, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
On Wednesday, a spokesperson from the federal health department told Global News in an email that leprosy is a rare disease and the risk to Canadian travellers to the United States is considered “very low.”
“Leprosy does not spread through casual contact with an infected person, for example, shaking hands or hugging, sharing meals, or sitting next to each other,” the spokesperson stated. “Infection requires close, frequent contact with someone with untreated leprosy over a period of months.”
PHAC added there are currently no special precautions related to leprosy recommended for Canadians travelling to the region, and they will continue to closely monitor the situation.
The message comes days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning saying leprosy may be on the path to becoming endemic in Florida. The department added that travellers heading to the southeastern region of the U.S., specifically central Florida, should be mindful of the potential risk of transmission.
“Florida, USA, has witnessed an increased incidence of leprosy cases lacking traditional risk factors,” the CDC said in a report published on Monday. “Those trends, in addition to decreasing diagnoses in foreign-born persons, contribute to rising evidence that leprosy has become endemic in the southeastern United States.
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“Travel to Florida should be considered when conducting leprosy contact tracing in any state.”
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Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. It primarily affects the skin, nerves, and, in severe cases, other organs. The disease is characterized by skin lesions, loss of sensation and nerve damage.
If detected early, leprosy can be cured with antibiotics.
Although the disease is still quite rare in the U.S., since the early 2000s, the CDC said there has been a “gradual increase” in cases, with the number of reported cases more than doubling in the southeastern states over the last decade.
Leprosy is not endemic to Canada, according to PHAC, adding that cases diagnosed here are acquired outside of the country.
There have been between one and 12 cases annually reported to the Canadian Notifiable Disease Surveillance System between 2017 and 2021, PHAC added.
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