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Two Unconfirmed Cases of Leprosy Reported At Riverside County Elementary School

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Two possible but unconfirmed cases of leprosy have been reported at Jurupa Valley's Indian Hills Elementary School, prompting school administrators to send out a warning letter to parents. Many parents chose to keep their kids home from school Tuesday, according to CBS 2.

Administrators told CBS 2 that the school was intensively cleaned over the weekend to err on the side of safety. They also stressed the fact that leprosy was really not that big of a deal, writing in the letter sent home that despite being "feared as a highly contagious and devastating disease, it is well establish that Hansen's disease (or leprosy) is not highly transmissible, is very treatable, and, with early diagnosis and treatment, is not disabling." Despite the terrifying images (and history) that leprosy conjures, the information conveyed by the school district is, in fact, correct.

Superintendent Elliott Duchon told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that the school sent the letter out on Friday because they wanted to "get ahead of any rumors and make sure [parents] had access to ample information."

According to the CDC, leprosy is "very rare and easily treated." One hundred and seventy-five new cases of leprosy were reported in the United States in 2014, and although the number of reported cases in the U.S. briefly spiked to 300 in 2010, it has otherwise hovered between 100 and 200 over the past two decades. Ninety-five percent of adults are naturally immune to the disease, even if they're exposed to the bacteria that causes it.

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(Courtesy of the Center for Disease Control)
Despite the treatable nature of the rare disease—antibiotics that can effectively combat the condition once thought of as a biblical scourge have been around for decades—stigma around leprosy continues to linger. In 2013, Dr. Maria Ochoa, director of the Hansen's Disease Clinic at the Los Angeles County Hospital, told Pacific Standard that the diagnosis remained "a sensitive issue," adding that "People are hesitant to get treatment because they're afraid."

Jose Arballo, a senior public information specialist with the Riverside Health Department, told LAist that the department was currently working with the school district and parents to gather as much information as possible. Arballo said that answers wouldn't be immediate, and it could be several weeks before they are able to verify the diagnoses. He also stressed the "remoteness of the chance that it will be caught by other students," if it is in fact leprosy.

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