via Indian Hills Elementary School website
via Indian Hills Elementary School website

One of two Riverside County elementary school students suspected of having leprosy was confirmed as a carrier of the disease, health officials announced Thursday.

A county health official said that despite parents, students and staff being “quite concerned,” everyone at the school is safe as it’s “incredibly difficult to contract leprosy.”

Laboratory tests on the skin of the Indian Hills Elementary School student came back positive for Hansen’s disease, better known as leprosy, according to the Riverside County Department of Public Health.

The second student does not appear to be infected, said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s public health officer, who downplayed exposure risks, saying there was no need for panic.

“It is incredibly difficult to contract leprosy,” Kaiser said. “The school was safe before this case arose and it still is.”

Jurupa Valley Unified School District Superintendent Elliott Duchon told City News Service that he was not concerned about the confirmation and had already directed staff to distribute notices to parents and guardians, alerting them to the lab results.

“There are no precautions that need to be taken,” Duchon said. “I’ve been assured the school is safe.”

He acknowledged that leprosy at an elementary school is unsettling and possibly hard to comprehend in modern times, but “after doing some research, I discovered it’s treatable and not the kind of public health threat some might otherwise believe.”

“I understand people were quite concerned, but I really hope that by now, with all the information we have, everyone is aware this is a curable disease and the school is safe,” Duchon told CNS.

According to the superintendent, attendance at the Indian Hills campus west of the city of Riverside initially dropped after word of the possible presence of leprosy spread throughout the community, but has since “normalized.”

On Sept. 2, the district sent notices to parents and guardians that two students were believed to be infected with leprosy, based on examinations performed by unnamed doctors.

The students’ identities were not disclosed. Their bacteria samples were sent to the National Hansen’s Disease Research Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the results were reported to the county health department as soon as they were verified.

No details were provided about the infected student’s status, or where the patient is undergoing treatment.

The fall term at Indian Hills, located at Linares Avenue and Grand Valley Trail, began Aug. 10. Current enrollment is 630, JVUSD officials said.

According to the Department of Public Health, over 95 percent of the U.S. population is “naturally immune” to leprosy, and if an infected party is on a regimen of antibiotics, it cannot be spread.

Hansen’s Disease is a bacterial infection that can be disfiguring, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. It’s spread through droplets or secretions emitted by coughing or sneezing. The disease has afflicted tens of thousands in parts of Africa and Central Asia.

“Hansen’s is easily treatable,” according to a CDC statement. “The disease was once feared as a highly contagious and devastating disease. Now, however, it is very rare. Early diagnosis and treatment usually prevent disability related to the disease.”

–City News Service

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