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Did the CDC Issue a Travel Advisory for Florida?

Reports are circulating the internet claiming there's a CDC travel warning for Florida due to leprosy.

Media reports that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a travel advisory for Florida are—simply put—not true.

Here’s where the rumor started: A recent CDC research letter noted that Central Florida has reported an increase in cases of leprosy, or Hansen Disease in Central Florida. In the United States, where leprosy is rare, medical providers normally observe that patients who present with symptoms of the disease have traveled to places where leprosy is known to be endemic, have spent a significant amount of time with populations who have immigrated from places where leprosy is known to be endemic, or have come into contact with the small subset of animals who are known to carry and transmit the disease.

There is no travel warning in the research letter. There is a mention of travel in the abstract, which reads: “Florida, USA, has witnessed an increased incidence of leprosy cases lacking traditional risk factors. 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. Travel to Florida should be considered when conducting leprosy contact tracing in any state.”

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The last sentence means that medical providers in other states should inquire if their patients have recently visited Florida if they present with symptoms of leprosy, in order to help trace the origin or transmission point. The research letter indicates that there is rising evidence that Leprosy is endemic in Florida, but does not discourage travel to the state.

The CDC letter goes on to point out that the absence of what are traditionally considered risk factors for leprosy transmission in Florida patients indicate that environmental factors may be contributing to transmissions in the state. In plain English that means the disease may be transmitted in Florida—and the root cause of the transmission cannot be traced to another location.

The only other mention of travel in the letter reads, “Travel to this area, even in the absence of other risk factors, should prompt consideration of leprosy in the appropriate clinical context.” This mean that medical providers can begin to consider travel to Central Florida as a risk factor for leprosy similarly to the existing risk factors.

The letter also appears to question whether immigration to the United States remains a top factor for transmission of the disease, noting that while immigration has significantly increased since 1990, the incidence of leprosy in populations of immigrants from leprosy-endemic areas has actually decreased, suggesting that other risk factors may be more prominent.

Leprosy is one of the oldest known disease affecting humans. A bacterial infection that is spread by prolonged exposure to contaminated droplets from coughs or sneezes, it can be a slow-growing disease—sometimes being transmitted years, or even decades before the patient begins to show symptoms.

The disease presents as skin lesions, nodules, or thick dry skin in its early stages—at their most extreme they can give the skin the appearance of “melting.” In later stages, the bacteria causes nerve damage, loss of feeling in the extremities, muscle weakness, and bone reabsorption, leading to clubbing in the hands and feet.

There was no cure for leprosy until antibiotics were discovered in the mid-20th century. Because the disease was previously incurable, patients were often quarantined for the rest of their lives in dedicated “Leper Colonies.” One of the most famous of these was on the remote Kalaupapa Peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. A Belgian priest known as Father Damien lived in the colony, caring for its inmates until his own death from the disease in 1889. He was canonized as Saint Damien of Molokai in 2009.

Today, infections are halted by an antibiotic cocktail.

Just 159 cases of leprosy were reported in the United States in 2020, the last year for which data is available. Central Florida accounted for nearly one-fifth of all nationally reported cases of the disease.

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pptai August 10, 2023

"Unverified claims of CDC travel warning for Florida and leprosy raise concerns. Verify information from official sources before reacting."


Leprosy was studied in the Melbourne Research Institute with armadillos which dug their way out of their compound and escaped. That was back in the 1980's if I remember. That may have something to do with the increase in central Florida.