Leprosy Outbreak Causes Concerns in Northwest Arkansas

Mary Marsh, KFSM-TV (Fort Smith, Arkansas), February 7, 2008

SPRINGDALE—The medical community is warning the public: a leprosy outbreak in Springdale could blossom into an epidemic, if something isn’t done soon.

Doctors say at least nine cases of leprosy have been confirmed in Springdale. Local doctors say they would be shocked by even one case of leprosy in their entire career, so they say something must be done soon, in order to stop leprosy’s spread.

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Medical specialists say the Marshall Islands have the most cases of leprosy, in the world. And the city with the largest number of Marshallese people, outside the Marshall islands, is Springdale. And Bingham [Springdale MD Jennifer Bingham] says, it makes sense, then, that leprosy is spreading to the city. “It’s from the Marshall islands; that’s why we’re seeing it.”

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Bingham says without cooperation, leprosy, which has no vaccine, and is transmitted through the air, will spread, and could easily become an epidemic. “People absolutely should be concerned. What I’m afraid of, is when people start thinking about it enough, it will already be out of control.”

So now, Bingham, and others like Mayoral candidate Nancy Jenkins, say government help is the next step. Jenkins says she’s angered the federal government has been so lax with border patrol. She says, “We’ve just opened the borders and said, ‘Come on in! Bring your diseases! Bring ‘em!’ Why are we doing that? Those who have it need to be quarantined and treated, or sent back to their country.”

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[Editor’s Note: Thursday afternoon (February 8), KFSM-TV removed this story from their website. The story below corrects some of the medical information contained in the original story, but is silent on the matter of how leprosy came to Springdale in the first place.]


SPRINGDALE—The Arkansas Department of Health in Little Rock says some Northwest Arkansas doctors have wrong information that’s leading them to fears of leprosy cases.

The health department tells 5News because leprosy is such a rare disease, some Arkansas doctors often don’t have the most up-to-date information on it.

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[Springdale Doctor Jennifer Bingham] contends people should be very concerned about contracting the disease. But the Arkansas Department of Health says: not true.

Officials argue there should be no cause for concern about a leprosy outrbreak or epidemic in Northwest Arkansas.

Dr. James Phillips, an infectious disease expert with the Arkansas Department of Health, says only five percent of the population is susceptible to the disease. He says leprosy is not as contagious as a lot of people think it is.

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Dr. Phillips says the latest medical information shows only five percent of the population is suceptible to leprosy, which is typically spread through close contact with mucous or other bodily fluids, over a long period of time.

Because of these reasons, the health department wants to correct misinformed doctors, or concerned citizens, to say: a leprosy epidemic cannot occur.

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