Edited By: Swati Chaturvedi
Last Updated: January 30, 2023, 12:10 IST
The bacteria is transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth during close and frequent contact with untreated cases. The disease predominantly affects the skin and peripheral nerves. Left untreated, the disease may cause progressive and permanent disabilities
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by a type of bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae. Leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT)
Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases known to man and is described in the literature of ancient civilizations. It is a chronic infectious disease, which is caused by a type of bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. The disease affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and the eyes. Leprosy is curable and treatment in the early stages can prevent disability. Apart from the physical deformity, persons affected by leprosy also face stigmatization and discrimination.
The disease is transmitted through droplets from the nose and mouth. “Prolonged, close contact over months with someone with untreated leprosy is needed to catch the disease. The disease does not spread through casual contact with a person who has leprosy like shaking hands or hugging, sharing meals or sitting next to each other. The clinical spectrum of the disease varies and it depends on the host immunity,” says Lt Col (Dr.) Vijendran P, MBBS, MD (Gold Medal), DNB, Consultant Dermatologist, Apollo Hospitals, Seshadripuram, Bangalore.
Hansen’s disease can be recognized by appearance of patches of skin that may look lighter or darker than the normal skin. Sometimes, the affected skin areas may be reddish. Loss of feeling in these skin patches is common. You may not feel a light touch or a prick with a needle.
Dr. Vijendran P explains the symptoms that mainly affect the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes.
- Discoloured patches of skin, usually flat, that may be numb and look faded (lighter than the skin around)
- Thick, stiff or dry skin patches, thickened nerves
- Painless ulcers on the soles of feet
- Painless swelling or lumps on the face or earlobes, loss of eyebrows or eyelashes
- Muscle weakness or paralysis (especially in the hands and feet)
- Eye problems that may lead to blindness, stuffy nose and nosebleeds
If left untreated, the signs of advanced leprosy can include:
Paralysis and crippling of hands and feet, shortening of toes and fingers due to reabsorption, nose disfigurement, chronic non-healing ulcers on the bottoms of the feet, blindness.
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Leprosy is a curable disease. The currently recommended treatment regimen consists of three drugs: dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine. “The combination is referred to as multi-drug therapy (MDT). The duration of treatment as recommended by World health organization (WHO) is six months for PB and 12 months for MB cases. MDT kills the pathogen and cures the patient. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment can help to prevent disabilities,” opines Dr. Vijendran P.
National Leprosy Eradication programme (NLEP) is a centrally sponsored scheme of Government of India. The NLEP’s mission is to provide quality leprosy services free of cost to all sections of the population, with easy accessibility, through the integrated healthcare system, including care for disability after cure of the disease. Free of cost services for diagnosis and treatment (multi drug therapy) are provided by all public health care facilities like primary health centres, govt. dispensaries, CHC, DH and Medical colleges throughout the country.
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