About Leprosy

Leprosy - an overview

Leprosy is one of the most ancient & dreaded diseases known to man. It has plunged humanity throughout the ages. It was only in 1873 that Armauer Hansen of Norway had a discovered that leprosy was caused by a bacterium (Mycobacterium leprae). Until then, the disease was thought to be from a curse or sinful ways, and had devastating consequences for the patient & their families.

Leprosy Is Not Very Contagious

Modern medicine tells us that leprosy is spread when an untreated infected person coughs or sneezes (but not by sexual contact or pregnancy). However, leprosy is not very contagious; approximately 95% of people have natural immunity to the disease. People with leprosy who are treated with medication do not need to be isolated from society.

Signs and Symptoms of Leprosy

The earliest sign of leprosy is commonly a spot on the skin that may be slightly redder, darker, or lighter than the person's normal skin. The spot may lose feeling and hair. In some people, the only sign is numbness in a finger or toe. If left untreated, leprosy can progress to cause serious effects on the body, including:

1) Hands and feet: Leprosy bacteria attack the nerves in the hands and feet and cause them to become numb. A person may get cuts or burns on the numb parts and not know it, leading to infections which cause permanent damage. Fingers and toes may be lost to infection. Serious infections in the feet may require amputation. Paralysis may cause the fingers and toes to curl up permanently.

2) Eyes: Leprosy bacteria attack the nerves around the eyes, causing the loss of blinking reflex (which protects the eye from injury and moistens the surface). The eyes become dry and infected, and blindness may result. Because of numbness of the eye, the person cannot feel debris in or scratches on the eye.

3) Face: Damage to the internal lining of the nose causes scarring and eventual collapse of the nose.

Leprosy Diagnosis

Leprosy is diagnosed by taking a skin sample (biopsy) and examining it under the microscope, looking for leprosy bacteria. Another test used for diagnosis is a skin smear. A small cut is made in the skin and a small amount of tissue fluid is taken. This is examined under a microscope for the presence of leprosy bacteria.

Treatment Available

Until the late 1940’s, doctors treated patients by injecting then with oil from the Chaulomoogra nut. Some patients appeared to benefit but its long term efficiency was questionable. In 1941, PROMIN was introduced but it required many painful injections. In the 1950’s Dapsone pills, pioneered by Dr R.G. Cochrane at Carville, Louisiana became the treatment of choice. In 1981, the WHO began recommending MDT (a combination of 3 drugs – Dapsone, Rifampicin & Clofazimine). Treatment duration depends on the strength of infection (6 months – 2 years).

A Hopeful Outlook

Before treatment was available a diagnosis of leprosy meant suffering and pain and being shunned by society. Today , antibiotics and goods skin care will prevent the disease from destroying the body. Researchers are working on developing a vaccine & ways to detect leprosy soon. The good news is that LEPROSY IS CURABLE but those cured of the disease may have to line with the deformities.

Contact Information

The Leprosy Mission Hospital
PO - Naini, Allahabad - 211 008
Uttar Pradesh, INDIA
Phone: +91 532 2697267
Fax: +91 532 2697494
E-mail: naini@leprosymission.in
Donations given at The Leprosy Mission Trust India are exempted u/s 80G of IT Act 1961
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