Frequently asked questions

What is Leprosy ?

Leprosy is an infectious disease affecting the skin & nerves caused by a tiny rod-like germ called Mycobacterium leprae a bacteria, Dr G.A. Hansen first described it in 1873.

Why is leprosy also called Hansen's disease ?

Norwegian doctor Armauer Hansen was the first to view the bacillus under a microscope in 1873.

How Many People Suffer from Leprosy today ?

The real number of people who have caught leprosy is unknown. Many still need to be found. According to the 2009 WHO report – 244,796 as the number of new patients detected to have leprosy all over the world. India is at the top with 133,717 of those newly detected. Once the medical treatment stops, the patient is no longer counted and comes off WHO statistics. it is estimated that there are over 3 million people who currently suffer from the long-term effects of leprosy.

Where does Leprosy occur now a days ?

Leprosy remains endemic in the poorer parts of the world. India currently has about 54% of all the new leprosy cases in the world, followed by Brazil, Angola, Bangladesh, China, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, The Philippines, Srilanka & Tanzania.

Should Leprosy Sufferers be segregated ?

Definitely not! Most patients are not highly contagious, and with the new drugs, all patients are rendered non-infectious within 48 hours. Patients are now being diagnosed and treated in the community, while continuing their life and work. They are not admitted to hospital unless there is a complication of their illness or treatment.

Are There Different Types of Leprosy ?

The type of leprosy a person will develop is dependent on their natural resistance to the disease not the type of germ. There is only one leprosy germ but people react to it in different ways. If a person has no resistance, the germs multiply freely in the skin, the lining of the nose and even deep organs like the liver. This is lepromatous leprosy. Other types are tuberculoid, borderline and indeterminate, each with their own typical symptoms. Many people have a natural resistance to leprosy and will never develop clinical signs though exposed to untreated, active patients for long periods.

What are the Early Signs of Leprosy ?

The early signs and symptoms of leprosy can vary considerably depending on a patient's resistance to the disease. They can be easily missed or mistaken for some other disease by the untrained person. People with lepromatous leprosy usually develop a skin rash or nodules while tuberculoid leprosy might first show itself as an area of numbness or pins and needles. Dark-skinned people sometimes have patches that are paler in colour than their normal skin and light-skinned patients show pinkish and reddish patches. There is no one "first sign" of leprosy. Careful consultation by a competent doctor with the examination of skin smears under a microscope is necessary for correct diagnosis.

How is Leprosy Caught ?

Like the common cold. Scientifically speaking, it is almost impossible to prove how the leprosy germ gets from one person to another, but people with lepromatous leprosy expel large numbers of germs from their nose and mouth. Like the common cold it is probable that the germs get into the body by inhalation or ingestion as happens in other diseases such as tuberculosis and influenza. Researchers are still working on how exactly the germ moves from one person to the next.

Can Leprosy be Cured?

Yes...
Most people have a natural immunity that fights the bacteria in their system without human intervention. For those without this natural immunity, modern medicine can kill the bacteria, and so help the patient to be cured. The earlier the medical treatment is started, the better the hope of a complete cure without deformity. If deformity occurs, there is a chance that it may be permanent.

What Medicines are used for Leprosy Treatment ?

A single drug, Dapsone, was used for many years but because of an increasing incidence of Dapsone resistance the WHO now recommends a combination of drugs - Rifampicin, Clofazimine and Dapsone - known as MDT. This Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT) is more costly, but it reduces the length of time a patient needs treatment considerably. So far it appears to be a very effective method of killing the germ. Depending on strength of the germ, treatment is for 6 month to 2 years.

Can Leprosy be prevented?

So far no specific preventative measure against leprosy is available. A vaccine is being researched and may be available in the future but its usefulness may well be limited. The best way of preventing the transmission of the disease within the community is to reduce infectivity as quickly as possible. To this end early detection and treatment is a primary goal.

Why do some Patients with Leprosy Develop Deformities?

Less than one-third of all patients develop deformity. The main cause of deformity in leprosy patients is nerve damage. This occurs because the leprosy germs have a peculiar liking for nerve tissue, and multiply freely between nerve fibres. When the germs die or are killed by the medication, the resulting inflammation compresses and destroys these delicate fibres with more or less complete loss of function. So feeling is lost and muscles paralysed, thus paving the way for ulceration, damage through injury and eventually deformity.

Can anything be done for the Damage and Deformities that Arise from Neglected Leprosy?

Yes! The techniques of physiotherapy and reconstructive surgery may be used. Physiotherapy maintains the mobility of the affected limb and strengthens weakened muscles. The patient is taught "self-care" and prevention of recurring injury. Re-constructive surgery may be used to help restore function and social acceptance. Damage to hands, feet and face may be modified by surgery but it is usually not possible to restore sensation. Even when nerves are only partly destroyed, patients need to carefully use their insensitive hands and feet so that they do not injure themselves unknowingly.

Are Other Forms of Treatment Used in Leprosy?

Occupational therapy can help patients learn how to gain a livelihood without damaging their hands and feet. This may mean new job skills or using protective appliances to save their hands from injury. Patients with insensitive feet require suitable protective footwear.

What Happens When a Patient is cured?

If treatment was being received at an outpatient clinic, the patient would simply carry on with normal daily activities, and report for re-examination at prescribed intervals. If the patient has been in hospital for a long time, a difficult period of social and domestic re-adjustment may be faced.

What if they are Unable to Earn a Living?

Many former leprosy patients are so permanently disabled that they need food and shelter for their remaining days. TLM operates, where possible, residential homes for people without family to care for them. The "Homes for Happiness" project in India provides small dwellings for ex-leprosy patients within their community. For those who are able, TLM offers training courses and small business loans, to give patients the ability to become self-supporting.

What is The Leprosy Mission?

In 1874, an irish missionary & teacher Wellesley Bailey was moved by the flignt of leprosy sufferers in Ambala, India. He promised to raise money to help these patients and thus ‘The Mission to Lepers’ was born. What began then as a little known society has grown into a worldwide mission, bring healing to the leprosy affected in 28 countries. The aim of the Mission is to meet the total needs (physical, spiritual, social and psychological) of people affected by leprosy and work towards the eradication of the disease. Those "affected" can include children, families and the whole community.

How does The Mission Work?

TLM works in partnerships with individuals and communities in 29 countries worldwide, where people have been affected by leprosy, in order to restore and enhance human dignity, self-reliance and quality of life. Approximately 2000 national staff, and 100 expatriate medical and administrative staff, work together to provide appropriate medical and other services to meet the many needs of people affected by leprosy. TLM concentrates its focus of work within South Asia, South East Asia and Africa where they maintain some hospitals and centers but also work in conjunction with churches and other mission agencies where possible.

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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