Leprosy. You are reading this. There’s a fairly high probability now that you’ll quickly close this page and move on to the next entertaining thing on your screen. It’s such a fine day; why would you need to read about Leprosy? After all, you can never get it. Neither can your family or friends. Correct? Or are you not so sure now? If you are unsure, we urge you to read this article. We’ll explain what you (& everyone) should know about leprosy in the simplest of articles ever written on this topic.

What causes leprosy?

Leprosy is a slowly progressing infection caused by a bacteria. This bacteria is known by the name of Mycobacterium leprae. It mainly affects the skin and peripheral nerves. It may take near about 3 to 5 years for the symptoms of leprosy to appear after coming in contact with the bacteria. This time is known as the incubation period. In some patients, this incubation period may be as long as 20 years.

How does leprosy spread?

Leprosy is a disease that is known to humankind since very old times, and is associated with many fears and social stigmas. However, in reality, leprosy is not that contagious as people think it to be. It can spread via repeated and very close contact with the respiratory droplets of an untreated patient. A patient is no longer contagious after just a few weeks of leprosy treatment. It is also reassuring to know that about 95% of the world’s population is naturally immune to leprosy.


What are the symptoms of leprosy?

Leprosy usually presents as chronic, round-shaped skin sores, lumps, or bumps. These are painless and non-itchy. If a person suffering from leprosy doesn’t get treatment, his nerves and skin are at the greatest risk of getting damaged. Once nerve damage occurs, the person feels an abnormally weak sense of pain, cold, heat, or touch in the portion of his skin supplied by the damaged nerve. The affected nerve becomes enlarged & painful. Due to the decreased sensation, the person is more prone to getting himself injured. Muscle atrophy and weakness is common. Repeated injuries lead to secondary infections, which, in turn, may cause the loss of body tissues.

How is leprosy diagnosed?

If you have a patch that arouses suspicion of leprosy, you should immediately visit your dermatologist. If needed, a skin biopsy (removing a small sample of the abnormal skin) is send to a pathology lab to be examined. A skin smear test may also be performed. Leprosy is divided into two different types on the basis of the number of skin lesions, the number of nerves involved and the presence of visible bacteria on the skin smear. These are Paucibacillary leprosy (less infection, less severe) and Multibacillary leprosy (more infection, more severe).

How is leprosy treated?

With proper treatment, leprosy can be cured. Leprosy is completely curable with Multi Drug Therapy (MDT). However, loss of sensation (& disabilities) in the limbs as a result of leprosy is usually irreversible. The treatment depends on the category of leprosy that a person has. Rifampicin, Dapsone & Clofazimine are the most commonly used drugs. The medicines are given for 6 months to a year, depending on the severity of the disease. This treatment is provided free-of-cost all over the world by the World Health Organization.

The lack of understanding and knowledge about leprosy is responsible for the social stigma and discrimination. This, in turn, increases misconceptions about the disease’s transmission and treatment. It’s about time that everyone gets the basic knowledge about this disease, and leprosy patients no longer get socially discriminated.

Just remember: leprosy is curable. We hope we helped you understand the basics about this disease. Thanks a lot for reading this article. If you found it worth your time, do share it with your friends.

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Dr Nitin Ranjan

Consultant dermatologist at Dermacosm clinic
Dr Nitin Ranjan is a consultant dermatologist at Dermacosm clinic. He possesses more than 7 years of experience in diagnosing & treating all skin, hair, and nail diseases.
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