Leprosy is on the rise again in the United States, particularly in Florida, concerning disease specialists. According to the World Health Organization, about 200,000 cases of the disease occur every year in 120 countries worldwide and are often associated with contact with armadillos.

The U.S. is experiencing cases creep upwards, with the number of infections across the country more than doubling over the past decade, both in people exposed to armadillos and those who aren’t.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year, there were 159 new cases of leprosy in the U.S. in 2020, around a fifth of which were in Florida. Of the Florida cases, 81 percent were found in central Florida. Cases in the southeastern states have nearly doubled over the last decade, according to the report.


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“Florida reported 10 cases of leprosy every year between 2002 and 2014. This rose to 29 new cases in 2015. There were 15 new cases in 2023,” Francisca Mutapi, a professor in Global Health Infection and Immunity and co-director of the Global Health Academy at the University of Edinburgh, told Newsweek.

“Global case detection rates dropped between 2019 and 2020, but this has been rising since then. The WHO attributes part of the decline in case detection rates to the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic on health services,” she said.

“The number of new cases post-2019 is growing but reported cases to date are still lower than those reported in 2019 (202,166 new cases) compared to those detailed in the latest WHO report from 2022 (174,087 new cases).”

Leprosy—also known as Hansen’s disease—is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis, and is one of the oldest recorded diseases, having infected humans for thousands of years.

It primarily affects the skin, peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and eyes, and causes symptoms including skin lesions, which may be lighter or darker than the surrounding skin and may lack sensation.

Other symptoms can include numbness or weakness in the hands and feet, nerve damage, and in severe cases, deformities and disabilities.