update deskU.S. News

Leprosy, which ‘conjures images of biblical plagues,’ on the rise in US

“Leprosy is beginning to occur regularly within parts of the southeastern United States,” wrote Robert Schwartz, professor and head of Dermatology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Augustin Hirschvogel’s 1547 etching of the prophet Elisha punishing Gehazi with Na’aman’s leprosy in 2 Kings 5. Credit: Rosenwald Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Augustin Hirschvogel’s 1547 etching of the prophet Elisha punishing Gehazi with Na’aman’s leprosy in 2 Kings 5. Credit: Rosenwald Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, is on the rise in parts of the United States, according to Dr. Robert Schwartz, professor and head of dermatology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

The disease, which is detailed extensively in Jewish scripture, is “a growing challenge in parts of North America” and is “beginning to occur regularly within parts of the southeastern United States,” the researcher told The Conversation.

“The surge in new cases in central Florida highlights the urgent need for health care providers to report them immediately,” per the article. “Contact tracing is critical to identifying sources and reducing transmission.”

Leprosy “is very rare in the United States, with less than 200 cases reported per year,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“CDC has not issued a travel advisory for Florida, or any other state, due to Hansen’s disease (leprosy),” it stated. “Most people with Hansen’s disease in the U.S. became infected in a country where it is more common. In the past, leprosy was feared as a highly contagious, devastating disease, but now we know that it’s hard to spread and it’s easily treatable.”

To become infected with leprosy, one needs “close contact” with someone with the untreated disease “over many months,” per the CDC. “You cannot get leprosy through casual contact such as shaking hands, sitting next to, or talking to someone who has the disease,” it added, noting that “around 95% of all people cannot become sick, because they are naturally immune.”

There is evidence that “leprosy has plagued civilization since at least the second millennium” before the common era, according to the Conversation. “Fear of contagion has led to tremendous stigmatization and social exclusion. It was such a serious concern that the Kingdom of Jerusalem had a specialized hospital to care for those suffering from leprosy.”

“The word ‘leprosy’ conjures images of biblical plagues, but the disease is still with us today,” the Conversation added.

The Torah records that leprosy—which Moses and his sister Miriam had temporarily—can be a punishment for speaking ill of others, or of God. The Torah also records instances of leprosy (tzra’at) on clothing and on architecture, also as a punishment for slanderous language (lashon harah).

You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war.

JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you.

The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support?

Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Topics
Comments
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates