Public health officials have confirmed that a child from California has been diagnosed with the ancient disease leprosy.
Health officials were notified in early September about two possible cases of leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, at a school in Jurupa Valley, California.
The findings by the National Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) Laboratory Research Program in Baton Rouge, La., supported a local doctor’s diagnosis that a student at Indian Hills Elementary School had leprosy.
A second student who may be related to the other child also had been diagnosed with the disease, but lab results did not confirm that the second person has leprosy.
News of the lab-test confirmation was provided to Jurupa Unified School District officials about 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22.
School officials quickly alerted parents by phone and email, and district Superintendent Elliott Duchon drove to Indian Hills Elementary School to answer questions from parents.
“We want to assure people that the school is a safe place. There’s no hazard of contagion at the school,” Duchon said later by phone.
Duchon said the best way to protect the children from possible mistreatment when they return to school is to maintain their privacy.
“The only way to protect the two students is for nobody to know who they are,” he said. … “The message to the other students is the school is safe, was safe, always has been safe.”
During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Riverside County’s health officer said the infected child is being treated, is expected to recover, and poses no risk to the public.
“The risk to the public was near zero before and now it is nil,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser.
During the same Riverside press conference, Riverside County Director of Disease Control Barbara Cole said the child was infected through prolonged contact with another infected person.
That other person is not in Riverside County, said Cole, adding she could not provide more details.
Leprosy experts say the disease is not highly contagious and is not easily transmitted in a group setting like classrooms. Leprosy is not contagious 24 hours after a patient begins taking a combination of antibiotics.
“Leprosy is really hard to get and really easy to treat,” Kaiser said.
A school neighbor said he was shocked to hear leprosy had been confirmed.