The aim of this study was to describe spatial patterns of the distribution of leprosy and to investigate spatial clustering of incidence rates in the state of Ceará, Northeast Brazil. The average incidence rate of leprosy for the period of 1991 to 1999 was calculated for each municipality of Ceará. Maps were used to describe the spatial distribution of the disease, and spatial statistics were applied to explore large- and small-scale variations of incidence rates. Three regions were identified in which the incidence of leprosy was particularly high. A spatial gradient in the incidence rates was identified, with a tendency of high rates to be concentrated on the North-South axis in the middle region of the state. Moran's I statistic indicated that a significant spatial autocorrelation also existed. The spatial distribution of leprosy in Ceará is heterogeneous. The reasons for spatial clustering of disease rates are not known, but might be related to an heterogeneous distribution of other factors such as crowding, social inequality, and environmental characteristics which by themselves determine the transmission of Mycobacterium leprae.
leprosy; incidence; spatial analysis; clustering; Brazil