What is Leprosy?
Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a progressive and chronic bacterial infection that is caused by Mycobacterium leprae. Primarily affecting the skin, nerves of the extremities, nose lining, and upper respiratory tract, Leprosy is known to produce skin ulcers, muscle weakness, and nerve damage.
With written reference from as early as 600 B.C., Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases of recorded history. WHO recognizes two types of leprosy i.e.
- Paucibacillary – When there are less than 5 lesions in the body and no bacterium is detected in the skin sample tests
- Multibacillary – When there are more than 5 lesions and the bacterium is detected in the skin sample tests
P.S. Other systems recognize more types of leprosy i.e. Tuberculoid leprosy, borderline tuberculoid leprosy, lepromatous leprosy, etc.
Leprosy early symptoms vary from individual to individual depending on their age, skin conditions, etc. Some of the common Leprosy symptoms have been listed below for your understanding:
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness in legs, hands, feet, and arms
- Skin lesions
- Inflammation in body parts
- Decreased sensation in legs, hands, feet, and arms
Who is at Risk?
Leprosy risk factors include geographical locations as the disease is more prominent in some countries than others. Certain red flags for when an individual might be at risk are:
- People living in areas known for the Leprosy endemic i.e. Parts of India, Egypt, Nepal, Japan, China, etc
- People with a family history of Leprosy
- People with genetic defects in the immune system
- People who live around animals known to carry the bacteria i.e. African Chimpanzee, Armadillos, etc
Leprosy cause is traced around the presence of Mycobacterium Leprae. Here are some of the prime causes of what could cause or transmit the disease:
- Bacterial infection from Mycobacterium Leprae
- Physical contact with people who have leprosy for very long. Leprosy has an incubation period of over 5 Years and the symptoms might not show for many more years.
- Contact with the mucosal secretion of the person already infected with Leprosy i.e. coughing and sneezing
Leprosy reason is often known for the complications that arise as a result of untreated bacterial infection for a long period of time. These serious complications include:
- Hairloss i.e. around eyelashes, eyebrow, etc
- Glaucoma, an eye disease caused due to damage of the optic nerves
- Erectile Dysfunction, inability to indulge in sexual intercourse
- Infertility, inability to conceive or bear a baby
- Kidney Failure
- Permanent nerve damage in the legs, hands or other parts of the body
- Muscle weakness
How is Leprosy diagnosed?
After the person infected experiences the Leprosy symptoms, they usually visit the doctor and the Leprosy diagnosis is done as per a series of tests undertaken by the consultant doctor.
- Physical examination – Doctor physically examines the evident signs of Leprosy on the skin or the infected area and checks the symptoms of the disease
- Biopsy – A biopsy test might be taken when skin samples are collected for lab testing and identification of the bacteria
- Lepromin skin test – A small amount of leprosy-causing bacterium to test the form of leprosy caused. This bacterium testing is done with an inactivated bacterium into the skin.
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How is Leprosy treated?
Leprosy treatment is undertaken depending upon the type of Leprosy and the severity of the condition.
- World Health Organization had developed a Multidrug Therapy in 1995 and is a targeted Leprosy medicine that is available for free worldwide
- Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to kill the Mycobacterium Leprae i.e. Rifampin, Minocin, Ofloxacin, etc. Anti-inflammatory medication like aspirin, thalidomide, etc are also recommended to treat the infection
How can Leprosy be prevented?
Leprosy prevention is possible when one adapts to a few simple things:
- Prevent contact with people, i.e. their nasal and other secretions, who have been infected with Leprosy.
- Research on the countries you travel and their Leprosy rates to identify your risk factors to the disease
- Practice hygiene and sanitation everywhere you go
- Maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine
- Improve your immune system
- Save from handling animals like monkeys, chimpanzees etc in the wild or without gloves