What is Leprosy?

Leprosy is a chronic infection which affects the skin forming lesions and particularly the peripheral nerves in the nervous system. It is caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae and is also known as Hansen’s disease as it was discovered by Hansen in the 18th century. This chronic infection affects the hands, fingers, nose mouth and ears and toes and results in their disfiguration.

There is more of a social stigma attached to this chronic infection and in the Indian subcontinent leprosy is still prevalent though efforts are on to curb the spread.

What happens in Leprosy?

A person affected with Leprosy develops pale and numb patches on the skin which are painless and are progressive. In the earlier centuries, there were lots of fears associated with this condition. The Leprosy disease is closely associated with tuberculosis and is a contagious condition. The disease takes a time period of 6 months to 40 years to fully develop and become a cause of serious concern if left untreated.

What causes Leprosy?

The causes of Leprosy may include:

  • Close proximity with already infected person
  • Genetic or heredity where the immunity is reduced
  • Being in close contact with certain animals who may be carriers of this bacteria causing Leprosy
  • Travelling to certain areas of some countries like India, China, Japan, Egypt and Nepal which have high instances of Leprosy
What are the signs and symptoms of Leprosy?

The signs and symptoms of Leprosy are:

  • Pale patches on the skin and numbness in the skin where the patch has developed
  • Loss of sensation to the affected area
  • Patches affect the cooler areas of the skin like nose, hands, face and feet
How is Leprosy diagnosed clinically?

Mostly the cases of Leprosy are diagnosed in lesser developed areas of the world where a clinical and physical examination reveals the condition of Leprosy. Loss of sensation and disfiguration of affected parts may show the condition of Leprosy.

Certain blood tests and liver functions tests and imaging tests may show if any damage has been caused to other organs. A dermatologist is the expert to be consulted.

Can leprosy be cured? How can it be prevented?

There is treatment for Leprosy which effectively cures the disease of its symptoms but it is of utmost importance that it is detected early. Early diagnosis helps in treatment.

The disease is not highly contagious but close proximity and long term exposure to affected patients and certain animals who are potential carriers of the leprosy causing bacteria is a risk factor. Sometimes the condition is hereditary. There is no vaccine available, but BCG vaccine is being used in some countries

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