A surprising turn of events unfolded when a routine visit to an Orlando dermatology clinic led to an unexpected diagnosis for a 54-year-old landscaper. After multiple biopsies, Dr. Rajiv Nathoo confirmed leprosy, a condition often thought of as distant. The absence of common risk factors raised questions about Central Florida potentially becoming an unanticipated hotspot for leprosy.

Central Florida’s high leprosy rates are concerning. In 2020, while the US reported 159 cases, Central Florida had 81% of Florida’s and nearly 20% of the national total. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, comes from Mycobacterium leprae, affecting nerves under the skin. How it spreads isn’t fully understood, but it might involve respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes. Symptoms include numbing lesions due to nerve issues. The bacteria can even live in nine-banded armadillos, raising questions about human exposure. Yet, spreading it requires prolonged contact with untreated patients, a situation to which about 95% of people are genetically resistant. While leprosy has often been linked to foreign travel or armadillo contact, an increase in puzzling cases suggests a potential endemic situation. The gradual appearance of symptoms makes tracing the disease’s source difficult, often leading to misdiagnoses. Experts emphasize that while endemicity implies regular occurrences, there’s no immediate cause for widespread concern. Dr. Nathoo’s discovery of a case cluster in Central Florida underscores the need for heightened awareness and early detection to effectively address this underestimated health challenge.