Parenting

Leprosy Scare in California Elementary School

Two elementary school children may have Hansen’s disease — better known as leprosy — health officials in Riverside County, California, say.

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease affecting the skin, eyes, upper airway, nerves, and mucous membranes that is potentially disfiguring if left untreated. The disease, which is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae, occurs in children under the age of 10 in up to 20 percent of cases, but can occur at any age.

According to the Los Angeles Times, nursing staff at Indian Hills Elementary School in Jurupa Valley notified county officials of the suspected infections on September 2. Barbara Cole, director for disease control for the Riverside County Department of Public Health, said the cases will take several weeks to confirm. “We have to keep stressing it’s not confirmed,” Cole said. “We’re just at the beginning of the investigation.”

District Supt. Elliott Duchon said “a parent notified the school’s nursing staff of a preliminary diagnosis of Hansen’s disease for a student at the school.”

Cole said the children were not hospitalized and lived in the western part of Riverside County, which is where the school is located.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Cole hadn’t yet followed up with the children’s parents to find out if they’d recently traveled to another country or had contact with someone with leprosy.

School officials sent a letter home with all Indian Hills students explaining:

The school district has received an unconfirmed report that two students at Indian Hills Elementary School have been diagnosed with Hansen’s disease (Leprosy).

This report has not been confirmed by the Health Department. In an abundance of caution, administration wanted to share this information with you as soon as possible.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, is a chronic bacterial disease that primarily affects the skin, peripheral nerves and upper airway.

Feared as a highly contagious and devastating disease, it is well established that Hansen’s disease is not highly transmissible, is very treatable, and, with early diagnosis and treatment, is not disabling.

Duchon told CBS Los Angeles that classrooms have been decontaminated and the students in question are not in school.

According to eMedTV, there are approximately 6,500 cases of leprosy in the United States,  and 90 percent of the cases are immigrants from countries where leprosy is endemic.

With the increase in illegal immigrants and refugees in recent years, diseases thought to be eradicated in this country — like tuberculosis, polio, measles and leprosy — have unfortunately reemerged in the United States. Most of the leprosy cases are occurring in California, Hawaii, Florida, and New York. Around 200 to 250 new cases are reported in the United States each year.  

Armadillos, which live in the southern United States, can also transmit the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae to humans. Fortunately, most people with leprosy are treated in the home and can be easily cured with antibiotics these days.