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Health Highlights: Sept. 23, 2016

Leprosy Confirmed in Elementary School Student in California

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Leprosy Confirmed in Elementary School Student in California

Health officials in Jurupa Valley, Calif., say that an elementary school student has been diagnosed with leprosy, a rare bacterial disease in the United States and one that is often misunderstood.

According to the Associated Press, two children from Indian Hills Elementary School in Jurupa Valley had been initially diagnosed with leprosy (medically known as Hansen's disease) by a local doctor.

But Riverside County health officials say that updated test results received this week from the National Hansen's Disease Laboratory Research Program in Baton Rouge, La., found that only one of the two children tested positive for the disease.

The identity of the children has not been released, and health officials would only say the infected child contracted Hansen's disease after being in prolonged, close contact with someone who is no longer in the United States.

"The only way to protect the two students is for nobody to know who they are," district Superintendent Elliott Duchon told the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

In the meantime, County health officials took steps to dispel some myths about leprosy.

"It is incredibly difficult to contract leprosy," Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County's public health officer, told the AP. "The school was safe before this case arose and it still is."

Health officials said parents with children at the elementary school have been sent emails giving detailed information on leprosy, and classrooms have been sanitized since the child's initial diagnosis.

Although it is still fairly common in developing countries such as India, Brazil, and Angola, the United States records only about 150 cases of leprosy each year, the AP noted. Over 95 percent of people living in the United States are naturally immune to the illness, the news agency added.

Also, despite the widespread notion that leprosy is easily spread, the disease is typically acquired only after prolonged contact with someone infected with the bacterium. Leprosy is also easily treated with antibiotics, the AP said.

Only in cases where the disease remains untreated can serious effects occur, such as nerve damage, deformity and disability.

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