NYC
02/10/2011 03:06 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Exotic And Rare Diseases Call New York Home

Did you think we were done with cholera, or the bubonic plague? Well, we're not.

Millions of people come to New York City every year, and a few of them bring exotic diseases with them.

The New York Times reports that each year, several people even contract the biblical disease leprosy.

Just last weekend, the city's health department revealed that three people were diagnosed with cholera, a disease they caught at a wedding in the Dominican Republic.

In 2002, two ranchers from New Mexico brought the bubonic plague to the Big Apple.

The Times asserts that, "If a disease has cropped up in the world, there is a good chance it will eventually find its way to New York City..."

Dr. Don Weiss, director of surveillance for the health department's Bureau of Communicable Diseases, said the city is "definitely a world capital."

"We have a lot of tourism," Dr. Weiss said. "We have people who live here whose birth countries are just about every country in the world. We do get some exotic diseases, but not to a point where every day my phone is ringing off the hook."

Doctors at Bellevue Hospital regularly deal with exotic diseases, not often encountered in America. The public hospital is visited by a large immigrant population from all over the world.

But Dr. Weiss said New Yorkers shouldn't be overly worried about catching diseases like leprosy.

"Some things can be scary until you have sort of a long period of observation," Dr. Weiss said. "Three Mile Island, when that happened, everybody was scared out of their wits. But after three weeks, it didn't blow up, and people said, 'Oh, it's probably not going to blow up.' "

From the Times:

Centuries of experience have shown that when it comes to epidemics, leprosy "is not as great a concern as tuberculosis, which has been a huge killer worldwide," Dr. Weiss said.

More prosaically, Lyme disease is on the rise, with about 550 cases reported in 2008, the last year for which statistics were available, up from 215 in 2000. But here, Dr. Weiss hypothesizes, the higher numbers could reflect increased testing.

For those who still want to convince themselves they've come down with a case of leprosy or the plague, the Times points them to the health department's site EpiQuery, an interactive database of communicable diseases caught by city residents.

Read more at the New York Times.