According to the Weekly Epidemiological Record of the World Health Organization, 157 new cases of leprosy (or Hansen’s disease) were detected in 2007 nationwide (2008;83:449-460)—on par with the 133-166 annual cases recorded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) from 2002 through 2005.
Despite its reputation, leprosy is not highly contagious (respiratory droplets are largely thought to be the main mode of transmission) and is very treatable, particularly with early diagnosis. However, the HRSA notes that diagnosis in this country is often delayed because providers are unaware of leprosy and its symptoms. A similar point was made at the recent annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene by James Krahenbuhl, the director of the National Hansen’s Disease Program. Leprosy is caused by Mycobacterium leprae and primarily affects the skin, peripheral nerves, and upper airway. More information about symptoms and treatments is available from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.