(NaturalNews) An elementary school located about an hour outside of Los Angeles, California, is receiving a wave of unwanted media attention following reports that two students may have Hansen’s disease, more widely known as leprosy.
On Friday, September 2, parents received a letter from Indian Hills Elementary School, warning them about two unconfirmed cases of leprosy, while offering information about the rare disease. The school is located in Jurupa Valley, and enrolls approximately 650 students.
“Duchon said a parent notified the school’s nursing staff of a preliminary diagnosis of Hansen’s disease for a student at the school. He would not say whether the two suspected cases were in the same family,” reports the Los Angeles Times.
Elliott Duchon is the district superintendent for Jurupa Unified School District.
Barbara Cole, director for disease control for the Riverside County Department of Public Health, said the students were not hospitalized, adding that they live in the western part of the county where the school is located.
Two unconfirmed cases of leprosy at Riverside County elementary school
It’s currently unclear whether either of the children has traveled to a region affected by leprosy or had contact with someone infected with the disease.
Resulting from a germ or bacteria, leprosy may cause nerve damage and muscle weakness that sometimes leads to deformities, crippling, blindness and isolation, according to Leprosy.org.
The infection adversely affects the skin, nerves, eyes and nose. Nerve damage caused by leprosy often affects a person’s ability to feel pain, resulting in accidental injury, infections and tissue loss.
“Fingers and toes become shortened and deformed as the cartilage is absorbed into the body. Repeated injury and infection of numb areas in the fingers or toes can cause the bones to shorten. The tissues around them shrink, making them short.”
While rare in the U.S., the disease was reported in 106 countries last year. Early symptoms of leprosy include red spots on the skin, normally appearing on the arms, legs or back. These spots can become numb and have hair loss.
Leprosy symptoms can take up to 20 years to develop
“If left untreated, hands can become numb and small muscles are paralyzed, leading to curling of the fingers and thumb. When leprosy attacks nerves in the legs, it interrupts communication of sensation in the feet. The feet can then be damaged by untended wounds and infection. If the facial nerve is affected, a person loses the blinking reflex of the eye, which can eventually lead to dryness, ulceration and blindness.”
The disease is spread through coughing, sneezing and long-term contact with others who are infected. Leprosy is not very contagious. In fact, 95 percent of the population has a natural immunity against the disease.
Those infected are typically given antibiotics, with treatments lasting from 6 months to a year. Indian Hills Elementary School says it has taken precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the disease, which includes disinfecting some classrooms, the LA Times reports.
District officials say classrooms are an unlikely place for transmission
Furthermore, district officials say that they will follow the health department’s guidance, but don’t consider schools to be a typical place of transmission.
“Even if the cases were confirmed … leprosy is not easily transmitted to others, and we don’t feel like there’s a risk in the school setting,” said Cole. “It’s not a highly contagious disease.”
The World Health Organization reports that leprosy is a slow developing disease with symptoms sometimes taking two decades to develop.
“In 2016 WHO has launched a new global strategy – ‘The Global Leprosy Strategy 2016–2020: Accelerating towards a leprosy-free world’ – which aims to reinvigorate efforts for leprosy control and to avoid disabilities, especially among children affected by the disease in endemic countries.”