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Leprosy: Fact File

Leprosy: Fact File

  • January 30, 2019
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Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by bacteria affecting humans since last 4000 years. It has played a major role in explaining the effects of multiple bacteria on humans. In 1873, Hansen discovered Mycobacterium leprae in tissue samples from patients which helped in understanding the complex range of bacteria affecting leprosy.

It mainly affects the skin, peripheral nerves, upper respiratory tract and eyes.

It is observed that the appearance of individuals with disability and disfigurement from leprosy has driven stigma, misinformation, and the discrimination of the affected patients.

Leprosy occurs at all ages ranging from early infancy to old ages and is completely curable.

In 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) made an announcement that leprosy had been eliminated. On the contrary, annual new case detection rate showed a gradual fall from 5.9/10,000 of 1991 to 2.3/10,000 in 2005. Reason for active transmission is long incubation period (period between infection and overt symptoms of disease).

Early diagnosis, adequate treatment, and health education are the most important control measures.

Symptoms

The primary symptoms of leprosy are skin lesions which are lighter than the skin tone and remains for weeks and sometimes even for months, also they have less sensation for touch and pain.

Numbness in leg, feet, arm and fingers are observed along with muscle weakness because of which injuries, burns and breakages go unnoticed. Due to unnoticed injuries the patient become prone to infections which can ultimately lead to damages extremities.

Enlarged nerves in arms and elbows, ulcers in feet and curling of fingers and toes are also some of the symptoms observed in Leprosy patients.

Leprosy damages the nerves responsible for eye bilking which results in eye dryness which can ultimately lead to ulceration or blindness.

Transmission

Up till now there was a misconception that leprosy spreads through human touch. But now it is a well established fact that leprosy spreads via saliva or through respiratory route. Not all individuals who are exposed to the bacteria tend to develop leprosy as only 5%-10% of the population is susceptible to the infection for immunological reasons.

Treatment

Multi Drug Therapy (MDT) is completely effective in eradicating leprosy. It is available free of cost in all Indian health care centers. The treatment should be taken as advised without interrupting the course.

Disabilities can be prevented with proper care of feet. Daily observation of feet at night. Application of coconut oil in case of cracks and fissures after proper cleaning of feet. Wounds, blisters, ulcers should never be neglected.

Health education is of crucial importance to familiarize the population with the early signs of leprosy and change the old prejudices against the disease.

Patients and their families have to be motivated to cooperate in long-term treatment and taking necessary measures for prevention of deformity, better education and improved housing.

About the Consultant

Dr. Swati Mittal
Dermatologist
SRV Mamata Hospital

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