Two unidentified students at Indian Hills Elementary School in Jurupa Valley, California, have been diagnosed with leprosy. Jurupa Unified School officials sent a letter home to parents recently to fill them in. Parents were alarmed at the news. “First thing I did was I called the school right the way and asked about decontamination, any kind of process, what’s going to be happening,” petrified parent Vanessa Aniles told a local news station.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
website described leprosy, which is often found in less-developed nations in the tropics, as “a long-lasting infection caused by bacteria” which causes discolored skin lesions, complete loss of nerve sensation, paralysis, and vision problems that lead to total blindness. The leprosy bacillus can spread via coughing and sneezing.
A town hall meeting was convened last night that was attended by hundreds of concerned parents. Many came away with questions and unresolved doubts, according to local reports.
School district superintendent Elliott Duchon would not say whether the two stricken students are related. “The risk of transmission, meaning spreading from those two individuals to other students or staff is very, very low,” said Barbara Cole, director of disease control for surrounding Riverside County, according to CBS Los Angeles. She said that authorities have not yet confirmed whether the two students have indeed contracted leprosy.
Specimens provided by the two students have been sent to the National Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) Clinical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Louisiana once had a leprosarium that operated for more than a century, taking in those afflicted by the disease and keeping them in effective quarantine. The national leprosy clinic will take several weeks to process the specimens.
Nearly 100 students at Indian Hills Elementary School remained away from school on September 6. Enrollment at the school is approximately 600. A private company is decontaminating classrooms where the two children may have spread the disease. Superintendant Duchon was not certain whether decontamination was actually necessary. Riverside County disease control official Cole said that with early disagnosis and treatment with antibiotics, “most people do very well.”
Parents appeared skeptical. Juanita Vasquez said in an interview with the Press-Enterprise newspaper, “How long have they been playing with the other kids?” Vasquez -- a grand mother -- added, “I just hope whatever it is, they caught it in time.”
Riverside County has seen seven cases of leprosy since 2011. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 180,000 people around the world have leprosy. Most of them live in Asia and Africa.
Leprosy is caused by the bacilli Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Symptoms may go unnoticed for years. The disease is now curable through a lengthy regimen of antibiotics. Appropriate antibiotics are provided free of charge by WHO.
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