What is leprosy?

Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, is caused by a bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae. It multiplies very slowly and mainly affects the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes. This disease continues to be prevalent in certain underdeveloped countries. In 1998 the WHO listed Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Nigeria as the countries where the disease is still endemic. The disease is also problematic in the Western Pacific region. It is thought that with improved detection in endemic areas and the application of multi-drug therapy, leprosy could be eradicated worldwide.

How is leprosy transmitted?

Although the mode of transmission of Hansen's disease remains uncertain, it is now believed that M. leprae is usually spread from person to person in respiratory droplets. The main group of people at risk from this disease are close contacts of people with untreated multibacillary disease or people living in countries where the disease is prevalent.

What are the symptoms of leprosy?

There are two classifications of Hansen’s disease:

  • Paucibacillary disease is milder and characterised by a small number of hypopigmented skin macules.
  • Multibacillary disease is associated with symmetric skin lesions, nodules, plaques and thickened dermis. Sometimes nasal congestion and epistaxis can occur.

How is leprosy treated?

Antibiotics are used to treat this condition. Despite the fact that treatment is available, it is estimated that 1-2 million people worldwide are permanently disabled from leprosy.

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