What is Leprosy?
Disease – The Medical Impact:
The bacterium is called Mycobacterium leprae. Discovered in 1873 by Gerhard Hansen, it is closely related to the bacteria that causes tuberculous. The organism has never successfully been cultivated on a slide or in a petri dish. For now, its growth is studied in nine-banded armadillos who, like people, are susceptible to leprosy.
Most of these cases are in South-east Asia, Africa and South America. Ministries of Health throughout the world are working to eliminate leprosy through early detection and treatment. (Statistic from the WHO website)
Researchers are not sure how leprosy is transmitted.
Though it is contagious, we know that leprosy is not transmitted through casual contact. In order to eliminate the disease, more research investigating transmission is necessary. Read more.
The World Health Organization partners with governments around the world to eliminate leprosy forever.
To learn more about the status of leprosy in the world today, go to the WHO’s Leprosy Elimination webpage.
Disability – The Physical Impact:
Untreated, leprosy can cause…
- Skin, limb and nerve damage, eventually destroying a person’s ability to feel
- Sensation loss, which can leave a person vulnerable to injury and infection
- Muscle weakness and disability
- Progressive physical changes in the way a person looks, it can damage hands, feet and facial features
- Disfigurement, loss of fingers, limbs, and physical disability
- Infertility or even kidney failure (some research suggests)
- Loss of eyebrows and eyelashes
Indicator One: Visual Signs
Indicator Two: Loss of Sensation
- On occasion, numbness in toes or fingers is the only sign of the disease.
Indicator Three: Tissue/Nerve Damage
- Loss of feeling can lead to damage from untended wounds and infection.
Indicator Four: Nerve Enlargement
Interested in how leprosy affects the human body? View pictures in our effects of leprosy image gallery.
Even after a person is cured of leprosy, the disease often continues to be an obstacle to living a normal life. Physical complications alone can prevent a person from working. People still face leprosy-related stigma, and even those once affected by leprosy can experience abuse and discrimination.
Social Consequences of Leprosy:
- Extreme Poverty
- Isolation from community and family