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Fears of leprosy outbreak in Los Angeles unfounded

September 12, 2019 GMT

CLAIM: Leprosy is making a comeback in Los Angeles and the city is at risk for an outbreak

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The number of leprosy cases in Los Angeles County has stayed consistent over the last decade and the area is not at risk for an outbreak, according to the Los Angeles County Health Department.

THE FACTS: Multiple online reports are falsely asserting that Los Angeles is at risk for a leprosy outbreak or has seen an increase in reported leprosy cases.

The concerns are not legitimate.

Over the last decade, the county has averaged two reported cases of leprosy a year. No more than four cases of leprosy, also called Hansen’s Disease, have been reported in any year during that time, according to a statement from the Los Angeles County Health Department.

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The health department has not identified any cases where the disease was transmitted to someone locally during that time.  

“Given the low number of cases and no evidence of local transmission, there is no risk for an outbreak,” the health department said in an email to The Associated Press.

The inaccurate articles cite a study released last month, which examined how leprosy cases in Los Angeles County were treated over the last 46 years.

Articles claiming that the study proves leprosy cases are on the rise in Los Angeles are inaccurate, Dr. Maria Teresa Ochoa, clinical professor at the Keck School of Medicine University of Southern California and co-author of the study, told the AP.

“I can’t believe it, it’s seriously frustrating,” Ochoa said of articles claiming the study shows an increase in leprosy cases. “Nobody is talking about new cases.”

Ochoa said the number of reported leprosy cases is on the decline in the county, with only one reported in 2019.  That’s down from 1998, when 13 leprosy cases were reported in the county.

Some of the articles circulating online falsely suggest former President Barack Obama is to blame for a possible leprosy crisis in Los Angeles because of health screening rule changes his administration made for immigrants coming into the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services removed mandatory screening for HIV and three other sexually transmitted diseases under the Obama administration.

A rule requiring immigrants be screened for leprosy during a medical examination before entering the country remained intact under the Obama administration. If an immigrant tests positive for leprosy, they might be denied entry into the country until they are treated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

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Other articles pin a possible leprosy outbreak in Los Angeles on the area’s growing homeless population.

No leprosy cases have been identified in people experiencing homelessness, the county health department confirmed in an email. 

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This article is part of The Associated Press’s data verification effort to combat misinformation that is shared online, and includes a collaboration with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of fake news circulating in this social network.

Here you will find more information about the Facebook data verification program:

https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536