What is Leprosy?

It’s History, Causes, Treatment and More. 

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. It is a slow-growing bacteria that affects the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes. Leprosy is a disease that has been around for thousands of years, and it has been shrouded in stigma, myths, and misconceptions for a long time.

In this page, we will explore the history, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of leprosy.

The History Of Leprosy

Leprosy has been around for thousands of years, and it has been documented in ancient civilizations such as Egypt, China, and India. In the Bible, there are several references to leprosy, and it was considered a curse from God. In ancient times, people with leprosy were ostracized and forced to live outside the city walls. They were seen as unclean and contagious, and they were often isolated from their families and communities.

In the Middle Ages, leprosy was a major public health problem in Europe, and leper colonies were established to isolate and care for people with the disease. In the 19th century, leprosy spread to the Americas, and it became a major problem in many countries. In the 20th century, the discovery of antibiotics and the development of effective treatments for leprosy led to a significant decrease in the number of cases worldwide. However, even with advancements in treatment, leprosy still effects over 1 billion people around the world each year.

What Causes Leprosy?

Leprosy is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. The bacterium is slow-growing and can take up to 20 years to cause symptoms. The exact mode of transmission of leprosy is not well understood, but it is believed to be spread through respiratory droplets or contact with the skin lesions of an infected person. Contrary to the myths about it, Leprosy is not highly contagious, and it is not spread through casual contact.

A photomicrograph of Mycobacterium leprae, the small brick-red rods, taken from a leprosy skin lesion (CDC, US Government public domain, 1979) Public Health Image Library (PHIL) #2123

How Is Leprosy Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of leprosy is based on a combination of clinical symptoms, laboratory tests, and skin biopsy. A doctor may suspect leprosy if a person has skin lesions that are lighter or darker than the surrounding skin and do not cause any pain. A doctor may also perform a skin biopsy to confirm the diagnosis of leprosy. In a skin biopsy, a small piece of skin is removed from the affected area and examined under a microscope for the presence of Mycobacterium leprae.

How Is Leprosy Treated?

Leprosy is treated with a combination of antibiotics. The antibiotics used to treat leprosy include dapsone, rifampicin, and clofazimine. The duration of treatment depends on the type of leprosy and the severity of the disease. Paucibacillary leprosy is usually treated for six months, while multibacillary leprosy is treated for 12 months or longer.

In addition to antibiotics, people with leprosy may require surgery to correct deformities and nerve damage. Physiotherapy and occupational therapy may also be helpful in improving muscle strength and mobility.

How Can Leprosy Be Prevented?

Prevention of leprosy involves early diagnosis and treatment of the disease. People who have been in close contact with someone who has leprosy should be screened for the disease. At this point, BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) is the only predominately used vaccine. A single dose can provide somebody with 50 percent or higher protection against the disease. 

The Stigma and Descrimination of Leprosy

Leprosy has been associated with stigma and discrimination for centuries. People with leprosy were often isolated from their families and communities, and they were seen as unclean and contagious. In some cultures, leprosy was seen as a punishment for sins, and people with leprosy were shunned and ostracized.

Even today, people with leprosy still face stigma and discrimination all across the world. The stigma surrounding leprosy can be a barrier to early diagnosis and treatment, and it can also have a negative impact on the mental health and well-being of people with leprosy.

Effect Hope helps to provide funding for programs that reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with leprosy. This is done through education and awareness-raising campaigns that help to dispel myths and misconceptions about leprosy and promote acceptance and inclusion of people with leprosy.

Are You Ready To Help People With Leprosy?

Millions of men, women, and children around the world continue to be affected by neglected tropical diseases such as leprosy. By making a donation today you can give them hope for their future by aiding them in restoring their physical, and mental health.