On Sept. 1, the Jurupa Unified School District (JUSD) informed parents of students at the Indian Hills Elementary School students in Riverside, California that two children attending the school may have leprosy.
In a letter, JUSD Superintendent Elliott Duchon informed parents of an unconfirmed report that two students have been diagnosed with the flesh-rotting disease also known as Hansen’s disease.
Riverside County disease control director Barbara Cole said that a school nurse informed the health department of the possible cases but it would take weeks before tests would confirm whether or not the children indeed have leprosy.
Cole added that they have not identified any risk at the school yet and the disease can be very difficult to transmit to others. Duchon also said that classrooms have already been decontaminated and the two students suspected of having the disease are not in school.
The news, however, appears to have already caused concern, if not panic, among families of students. Families now demand more information and some parents already decided not to send their children to school on Tuesday, Sept. 6.
“For parents, they need to make a decision for their children but we’re not recommending any precautions,” said Duchon. “There is not a risk at this time.”
County health officials are set to interview the parents of the affected children to know if they have traveled to other countries where leprosy is more prevalent.
In 2014, the U.S. had 175 cases of leprosy, 20 of which were in California. Although it rarely occurs in the country, leprosy is widespread in India, Nepal, Brazil, and African and Pacific Ocean island countries.
The disease is spread through respiratory droplets but health experts said that the bacterial infection does not easily spread in group settings. Close contact with infected individuals who do not take antibiotics to treat infection, however, pose increased possibility for infection.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that symptoms of the disease may not appear years after infection. It is characterized by skin lesions and growths, numbness or severe pain, paralysis, muscle weakness and eye problems. The condition though is already curable and early treatment can avert disability.
“The bacteria that cause Hansen’s disease grow very slowly. It may take 2-10 years before signs and symptoms appear,” reads the CDC website. “Symptoms mainly affect the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes (the soft, moist areas just inside the body’s openings).