What is leprosy pictures?

What is leprosy?

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosal surfaces of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes. Leprosy is known to occur at all ages ranging from early infancy to very old age. Leprosy is curable and early treatment averts most disabilities.

The exact mechanism of transmission of leprosy is not known. At least until recently, the most widely held belief was that the disease was transmitted by contact between cases of leprosy and healthy persons. More recently the possibility of transmission by the respiratory route is gaining ground. There are also other possibilities such as transmission through insects which cannot be completely ruled out.

Seeking skin lesions, Brazil, 2015 ©WHO/PAHO

Signs/symptoms and diagnosis

Clinical signs are easy to observe. In a country or area with a high incidence of leprosy, an individual should be regarded as having leprosy if he or she shows ONE of the following cardinal signs:

  • skin lesion consistent with leprosy and with definite sensory loss, with or without thickened nerves
  • positive skin smears

The skin lesion can be single or multiple, usually less pigmented than the surrounding normal skin. Sometimes the lesion is reddish or copper-coloured. A variety of skin lesions may be seen but macules (flat), papules (raised), or nodules are common. Sensory loss is a typical feature of leprosy. The skin lesion may show loss of sensation to pin pick and/or light touch. Thickened nerves, mainly peripheral nerve trunks constitute another feature of leprosy. A thickened nerve is often accompanied by other signs as a result of damage to the nerve. These may be loss of sensation in the skin and weakness of muscles supplied by the affected nerve. In the absence of these signs, nerve thickening by itself, without sensory loss and/or muscle weakness is often not a reliable sign of leprosy.

Leprosy can be classified on the basis of clinical manifestations and skin smear results. In the classification based on skin smears, patients showing negative smears at all sites are said to have paucibacillary leprosy (PB), while those showing positive smears at any site are said to have multibacillary leprosy (MB).

  • Treatment of leprosy

Leprosy

Leprosy is a chronic bacterial infection with Mycobacterium leprae. It primarily affects the skin, mucous membranes (eg, nose), peripheral nervous system (nerve function), eyes and testes. The form the disease takes depends on the person’s immune response to the infection.

Leprosy is also known as Hansen disease and is one of the oldest known diseases of mankind. It is curable but if untreated can lead to severe deformities.

In 2008, a new species, M. lepromatosis, was described causing a diffuse form of lepromatous leprosy in Mexico.

Types of leprosy

There are several forms of leprosy that range from the mildest indeterminate form to the most severe lepromatous type. More severe forms arise because of a less effective immune response to the infection. Most of those infected mount an appropriate immune response and never develop signs of leprosy.

Depending on clinical features, leprosy is classified as:

  • Indeterminate leprosy (IL)
  • Tuberculoid leprosy (TT)
  • Borderline tuberculoid leprosy (BT)
  • Borderline borderline leprosy (BB)
  • Borderline lepromatous leprosy (BL)
  • Lepromatous leprosy (LL)

Patients with indeterminate leprosy, a very early form of leprosy, may either be cured or progress to one of the other forms of leprosy depending on their immune status. Within each type of leprosy, a patient may remain in that stage, improve to a less debilitating form or worsen to a more debilitating form depending on their immune state. Lepromatous leprosy is the only form that never reverts to a less severe form.

Who is at risk of leprosy?

Leprosy can affect people of all races all around the world. However, it is most common in warm, wet areas in the tropics and subtropics. Worldwide prevalence is reported to be around 5.5 million, with 80% of these cases found in 5 countries: India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Brazil and Nigeria. In New Zealand, we most often come across cases from Samoa, Tahiti and the Cook Islands.

Leprosy presents most often during two different periods of life, between the ages of 10 and 14 and in those aged 35–44 years old. It is rarely seen in infants. In nearly all cases, leprosy is due to prolonged contact with another person with the disease. It has rarely been associated with handling infected armadillos in Southern states of the USA.

Leprosy bacteria have been found in armadillos in Brazil, and to a lesser extent, in the southern United States of America. People who hunt, kill, process or eat armadillo meat are at a higher risk for infection with M. leprae .

What are the signs and symptoms of leprosy?

Once infected with the mycobacteria, the average incubation period is two to three years, but it can range from 6 months to 40 years or longer. In 90% of patients, the first sign of the disease is a feeling of numbness, which may precede skin lesions by a number of years. Temperature is the first sensation lost, followed by light touch, pain and then deep pressure. Sensory loss usually begins in the extremities (toes and fingertips).

The first skin lesion is usually the indeterminate type, which causes one or a few hypopigmented (pale) spots before evolving into the borderline, tuberculoid or lepromatous types.

Tuberculoid leprosy

  • Tuberculoid leprosy can be either one large red patch with well-defined raised borders or a large hypopigmented asymmetrical spot.
  • Lesions become dry and hairless.
  • Loss of sensation may occur at the site of some lesions.
  • Tender, thickened nerves with subsequent loss of function are common.
  • Spontaneous resolution may occur in a few years or it may progress to borderline or rarely lepromatous types.

Borderline tuberculoid leprosy

  • Borderline tuberculoid leprosy is similar to the tuberculoid type except that lesions are smaller and more numerous.
  • The disease may stay in this stage or convert back to tuberculoid form, or progress.

Borderline borderline leprosy

  • Borderline borderline leprosy is characterised by numerous, red, irregularly shaped plaques.
  • Sensory loss is moderate.
  • The disease may stay in this stage, improve or worsen.

Borderline lepromatous leprosy

  • Borderline lepromatous leprosy presents with numerous lesions of all kinds: plaques, macules, papules, and nodules. Lesions looking like inverted saucers are common.
  • Hair growth and sensation are usually not impaired over the lesions.

Lepromatous leprosy

  • Early nerve involvement in lepromatous leprosy may go unnoticed.
  • Numerous lesions of all kinds, plaques, macules, papules, and nodules.
  • Early symptoms include nasal stuffiness, discharge and bleeding, and swelling of the legs and ankles.

Left untreated, the following problems may occur in lepromatous leprosy.

  • The skin thickens over the forehead (leonine facies), eyebrows and eyelashes are lost, the nose becomes misshapen or collapses, ear lobes thicken, and upper incisor teeth fall out.
  • Eye involvement causes photophobia (light sensitivity), glaucoma and blindness.
  • The skin on the legs thickens and forms ulcers when nodules break down.
  • Testicles shrivel causing sterility and enlarged breasts (males).
  • Internal organ infection causing enlarged liver and lymph nodes.
  • The voice becomes hoarse due to the involvement of the larynx.
  • Slow scarring of peripheral nerves resulting in nerve thickening and sensory loss.
  • Fingers and toes become deformed due to painless repeated trauma.

How is the diagnosis of leprosy made?

Leprosy has very characteristic clinical features but the diagnosis must be confirmed because of the need for prolonged treatment with antibiotics. A skin biopsy may show characteristic histopathology, with granulomas (mixed inflammatory cell infiltrate in the deeper layers of the skin, the dermis) and involvement of the nerves. Special staining of the tissue may show acid-fast bacilli, the number visible depending on the type of leprosy. Immunohistochemistry stains can be helpful when the bacilli are few in number.

The bacteria may also be found in lepromatous leprosy on smears taken from skin slits made in the ear lobes, but the smears will be negative in the tuberculoid or borderline forms of the disease.

What is the treatment for leprosy?

Management of leprosy is aimed at stopping the infection and minimising potential physical deformities. Antibiotics used first-line to eliminate organisms include dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine. Varying regimens with multidrug therapy (MDT) are used depending on the type of leprosy and the severity of the infection. This may be a combination of two or three antibiotics given over varying lengths of time (up to years). Other antibiotics include minocycline, ofloxacin and clarithromycin.

The World Health Organization has produced treatment guidelines for leprosy (2018), which advocate three drugs including clofazamine for 6 months in paucibacillary leprosy and 12 months in multibacillary leprosy.

Oral corticosteroids and thalidomide are helpful in preventing nerve damage by reducing swelling. Long courses are necessary to decrease the severity of deformities and disabilities.

Surgery may sometimes be used to drain abscesses to restore nerve function, reconstruct a collapsed nose, or to improve function or appearance of affected areas.

Patient education is paramount. Leprosy can be cured but it is essential to take the full course of medication. It is no longer infectious once treatment has begun. Patients should be instructed how to deal with existing nerve damage, for example, protecting numb feet from injury. Physical, social and psychological rehabilitation is necessary for those in whom the neglected disease has caused havoc.

Lepra reactions

Lepra reactions occur in 30–50% of patients with leprosy. They may occur before, or more often, after the start of treatment and are induced by medicines, stress and surgical procedures. There are 3 main types of reaction.

Lepra type I (reversal) reaction

Lepra type I (reversal) reaction often affects those with borderline shifting toward tuberculoid type, as the cell-mediated immune system improves in the first few months of drug treatment or for some other reason such as pregnancy.

Type 1 reactions result in fever, red swollen skin, and tender peripheral nerves. Treatment requires oral corticosteroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories.

Lepra type II reaction

Lepra type II reaction is also called erythema nodosum leprosum (ENL). It affects those with borderline lepromatous or lepromatous leprosy and is a humoral (antibody-antigen) reaction to immune complexes. Repeated episodes tend to occur later in treatment than the type I reaction, usually after several years.

ENL presents as painful red nodules (lumps), which can blister or ulcerate, accompanied by fever, malaise, joint pain, nerve pain, eye disease and involvement of other organs. Treatment may include clofazimine, thalidomide, corticosteroids, colchicine, ciclosporin or tumour necrosis factor antagonists.

Lucio type II phenomenon

Lucio phenomenon is a cutaneous vasculitis in patients with lepromatous leprosy. It is difficult to treat and regimens must include MDT.

Lucio phenomenon presents as odd-shaped red patches and ulcers on hands, wrists, ankles and feet. It is associated with fever, arthritis, liver and kidney disease.

Erythema nodosum leprosum

Can leprosy be prevented?

People in contact with someone with leprosy may be treated with single-dose rifampicin for short-term (2 years) postexposure prophylaxis; this reduces the risk of developing paucibacillary leprosy by 50%.

Research is being undertaken to determine whether immunisation can be achieved using a non-pathogenic, environmental mycobacterium, M. indicus pranii, which may reduce the risk of developing leprosy in at-risk populations as well as reducing the severity of leprosy in those that are infected.

Leprosy Stock Photos and Images

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  • Nurse holding the hands of a leprosy patient, leprosy colony Agua de Dios, Colombia, South America
  • Leprosy bacteria. Computer artwork of Mycobacterium leprae bacteria, the Gram-positive rod-shaped bacteria which cause the disease leprosy.
  • beggar with leprosy in Bangkok, Thailand
  • Leprosy Nepal
  • right foot of a leprosy in leprosy village in Thailand
  • Feet of a woman who suffers from leprosy. Varanasi, India
  • Leprosy patient at Sitanala hospital room. © Anastasia Ika
  • A Leprosy patient at the Mawlamyine Christian Leprosy Hospital in Mawlamyine, Burma.
  • Man outside Hajj Ali in Mumbai, India
  • Exhibition in the church of the Congregation of Sacred Hearts Leuven, Belgium about Father Damien and leprosy on Molokai Hawaii
  • TANZANIA Home of Compassion, for the sick and needy, Kigera village, near Musoma. Man suffering from leprosy.
  • Carville, Louisiana – The National Hansen’s Disease Museum. Once a facility where people with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) were quarantined for life, it
  • Ladakh, India – 16 July 2009: graffiti on a wall reading ‘Leprosy is Curable’ and ‘Know AIDS for no AIDS’
  • Leprosy or Hansen’s Disease, showing a woman with facial skin irregularly thickened, vintage engraved illustration. Usual Medici
  • Pedestrians on a Kathmandu street walk past a prostrate disabled beggar suffering from Leprosy, Nepal, Asia
  • Church, former station for leprosy, Abades, Tenerife, Spain,
  • St Cuthbert’s Church Leprosy Grill Beltingham
  • Leprosy skin under the microscope 200x
  • Aerial view of Kalaupapa Peninsula, former leprosy colony, Molokai, Hawaii, USA
  • Leprosy patient, 78 years, with crippled hands and injuries on his legs, leprosy colony Agua de Dios, Colombia, South America
  • Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) with signs of squirrel leprosy, Highlands, Scotland, UK
  • LEPROSY
  • Leprosy Nepal
  • right hand of a leprosy isolated on white background
  • Benghal dayflower, tropical spiderwort, wandering Jew benefits make you an appetite suppressant, use as a laxative, help solve leprosy. Relieve skin i
  • Drugs for leprosy therapy.
  • Sign informing the villagers that leprosy is curable in Pelling, Sikkim, India.
  • Leprosy, leper colony
  • Detail Shot Of Leprosy Hands
  • Man suffering from leprosy. Varanasi, India
  • Carville, Louisiana – The cemetery at the National Hansen’s Disease Museum. Once a facility where people with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) were quaranti
  • The Christian Leprosy Hospital in Mawlamyine, Burma.
  • Leprosy or Hansen’s Disease, showing a young boy with the disease from age 6 through 13, vintage engraved illustration. Usual Me
  • The Leprosy Museum in Bergen, Norway ( St. George’s Hospital )
  • child sitting on mother’s lap, mother with leprosy, India
  • St Cuthbert’s Church Leprosy Grill Beltingham
  • Leprosy skin under the microscope 200x
  • Group of beggars with leprosy chant at Haji Ali Mosque, Mumbai India
  • Leprous woman outside her house, tuberculosis and leprosy station, Manyemen, Cameroon, Africa
  • Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) with signs of squirrel leprosy, Highlands, Scotland, UK
  • LEPROSY
  • Leprosy Nepal
  • left hand of a leprosy.
  • LEUVEN, BELGIUM – SEPTEMBER 3: St. Damien de Vesper inter his leprous windowpane of st. Anthony church
  • Treatment room in the Sitanala Leprosy Hospital, Tangerang, Banten, Indonesia.
  • Painting of Father Damien, who helpen people with leprosy, in the Saint Lambert church in Leefdaal, Belgium
  • Leprosy, leper colony
  • SPINALONGA, CRETE, – 20TH MAY 2015: Colourful doors of Spinalonga Island where Greek citizens with leprosy used to be isolated.
  • French postage stamp (1973) : Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen (1841-1912). Centenary of the discovery of the leprosy / Hansen’s Disease
  • Carville, Louisiana – The cemetery at the National Hansen’s Disease Museum. Once a facility where people with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) were quaranti
  • A Leprosy patient at the Mawlamyine Christian Leprosy Hospital in Mawlamyine, Burma.
  • Rifampicin capsule for treatment tuberculosis and leprosy. Antibiotic resistance of tuberculosis (TB). Antituberculosis drug. Red pills produce reddis
  • Benghal dayflower, tropical spiderwort, wandering Jew benefits make you an appetite suppressant, use as a laxative, help solve leprosy. Relieve skin i
  • Nurse Cleaning A Man’s Foot That Has Leprosy; Manica, Mozambique, Africa
  • A sign for a Leprosy service in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • Leprosy skin under the microscope 200x
  • Birthplace at Tremelo, Belgium of Father Damien / Jozef De Veuster, missionary who ministered to lepers on Molokai, Hawaii
  • Leprosy patient with crutches on the street, Bogota, Colombia, South America
  • Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) with signs of squirrel leprosy, Highlands, Scotland, UK
  • LEPROSY
  • Leprosy Nepal
  • hands of a leprosy isolated on white background
  • India, Arunachal Pradesh, Dirang, Health Education, Leprosy awareness painted slogan on old dzong wall
  • Patients at treatment room of Sitanala leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) hospital in Tangerang, Banten province, Indonesia.
  • Bible scene historical reenactment play with a leprosy man
  • Leprosy, leper colony
  • Elk284-6339v Hawaii, Molokai, Kalaupapa NHP, Kalaupapa town, Father Damien church, memorials
  • Father Damien or Saint Damien de Veuster of Molokai
  • Carville, Louisiana – The National Hansen’s Disease Museum. Once a facility where people with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) were quarantined for life, it
  • A Leprosy patient at the Mawlamyine Christian Leprosy Hospital in Mawlamyine, Burma.
  • C
  • A patient with leprosy.is likely to have had the disease for thirty years or more.
  • LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN – SEPTEMBER 19, 2017: The Naaman of Syria bathing in Jordan on the stained glass in St Mary Abbot’s church
  • A sign for a Leprosy service in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • Clofazimine leprosy drug molecule
  • Father Damien / Jozef De Veuster, Roman Catholic missionary who ministered to lepers on the island of Molokai, Hawaii
  • Two leprosy patients with crippled hands, shake hands, Bogota, Colombia, South America
  • Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) with signs of squirrel leprosy, Highlands, Scotland, UK
  • LEPROSY
  • Leprosy Nepal
  • left hand of a leprosy isolated on white background
  • Gandhiji Prem Nivas( Leprosy center), established by Mother Teresa and run by the Missionaries of Charity in Titagarh, India
  • A shoe for leprosy patient in Sitanala Leprosy Hospital, Tangerang, Banten, Indonesia. © Anastasia Ika
  • Statue of Father Damien in the Cathedral of Mechelen, Belgium. Damien (1840 – 1889), born Jozef De Veuster, was a missionary and
  • Leprosy, leper colony
  • Elk284-6358 Hawaii, Molokai, Kalaupapa Peninsula NHP, St Philomena Church, Father Damien grave
  • Father Damien or Saint Damien de Veuster of Molokai
  • Carville, Louisiana – The National Hansen’s Disease Museum. Once a facility where people with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) were quarantined for life, it
  • A Leprosy patient at the Mawlamyine Christian Leprosy Hospital in Mawlamyine, Burma.
  • Kalaupapa peninsula, Molokai, Hawaii
  • UK, England, Yorkshire. St. Anthony’s Church, Grinton Village. The leper’s squint.
  • Beggar with plague in a reenactment of a Medieval Fair in Óbidos, Portugal.
  • Leprosy Treatment and Research as a Concept
  • Clofazimine leprosy drug molecule
  • Sculpture De Zelfgave in Tremelo, Belgium in honour of Father Damien, missionary who ministered to lepers on Molokai, Hawaii
  • Leprosy patient, 72 years, at the physiotherapy with a physiotherapist, Bogota, Colombia, South America
  • Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) with signs of squirrel leprosy, Highlands, Scotland, UK
  • LEPROSY
  • Leprosy Nepal
  • A leper woman lighting up her pipe.

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Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease)

Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) is a chronic infectious disease that primarily affects the peripheral nerves, skin, upper respiratory tract, eyes, and nasal mucosa (lining of the nose). The disease is caused by a bacillus (rod-shaped) bacterium known as Mycobacterium leprae.

Why Is the Study of Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) a Priority for NIAID?

At the beginning of 2010, the registered prevalence of leprosy in the world was 211,903 cases, and 244,796 new cases were detected during 2009, as reported by 141 countries (World Health Organization ). Since the 1980s, when the WHO initiated its Leprosy Elimination Project, more than 14 million cases have been cured. However, the number of new cases being detected annually is raising the unanswered questions about the infection source, transmission, and incubation period of leprosy.

How Is NIAID Addressing This Critical Topic?

Researchers are exploring more avenues than ever before in the search for solutions to leprosy, now that the genome of M. leprae has been sequenced. NIAID goals are to discover reservoirs of infection, routes of transmission, and incubation periods so the disease can be stopped before patients even have symptoms. New tests for early detection of leprosy before nerve damage occurs are now being developed.

Innovative research efforts are addressing such issues as transmission and the true extent of leprosy incidence. Studies are focusing on the areas of early detection (prior to developing clinical symptoms), prevention of nerve damage, surveillance of areas where drug resistance is occurring, and molecular epidemiology.

To learn about risk factors for Leprosy and current prevention and treatment strategies .

What’s New

NIAID Now Blog

  • How Leprosy and Tuberculosis Bacteria Hijack Immune Cells in Early Infection
    August 28, 2017

Basic Research

NIAID-funded investigators are developing the armadillo as a research animal model for human leprosy and developing improved skin test antigens to detect leprosy.

Read more about leprosy basic research

Transmission

NIAID-funded scientists are using genomic knowledge of M. leprae to examine leprosy transmission. From earlier epidemiological studies, scientists knew that M. leprae had been found among wild armadillos in Texas and Louisiana, suggesting that human contact with infected armadillos might lead to infection.

Read more about leprosy transmission

Next Steps for Leprosy Research

Priorities for research in leprosy today include genetic probes for molecular epidemiology, and new immunologic tests for early detection of leprosy before nerve damage occurs. The goals are to provide evidence on routes of transmission and incubation periods and to develop new tools to prevent and, ultimately, eradicate leprosy.

World Leprosy Day: Bust the Myths, Learn the Facts

World Leprosy Day is observed on the last Sunday of January each year. Established in 1954 by French philanthropist Raoul Follereau, it aims to raise awareness about leprosy (now called Hansen’s disease) and teach people about this ancient disease and that it is easily curable today. While rare in the United States, many people around the world continue to suffer from this curable disease due to lack of access to basic medical care and continued stigma surrounding the illness.

Leprosy was renamed Hansen’s disease after Norwegian scientist Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen, who in 1873 discovered the slow-growing bacterium now known as Mycobacterium leprae as the cause of the illness. It is difficult to catch, and it can take many years to develop symptoms of the disease following an infection. However, people who catch the disease can be cured with antibiotics.

Together, we can put a stop to discrimination and stigma against people with Hansen’s disease. We can learn to recognize symptoms and know when to see a physician for diagnosis. Educate yourself and your community and separate the facts from the myths about Hansen’s disease.

Burden of Hansen’s Disease

Around the world:

  • The number of new cases reported globally to World Health Organization (WHO)External in 2016 was more than 200,000.
  • Close to 19,000 children were diagnosed with Hansen’s disease in 2016, more than 50 a day.
  • An estimated 2 to 3 million people are living with Hansen’s disease-related disabilities globally.
  • In 2016, the countries with the highest number of new diagnoses were India, Brazil, and Indonesia, followed by some of the nations in Africa.
  • Two-thirds of all new cases of Hansen’s disease are diagnosed in India, which remains home to a third of the world’s poor, a group disproportionately affected by the disease.

In the United States:

  • About 150 to 250 cases are reported each year.
  • In 2015, 178 new cases were reported to the National Hansen’s Disease Program (NHDP)External, which coordinates care, research, and information about Hansen’s disease in the U.S.
  • Most of those cases occur in people who have lived in areas of the world where the disease is still common.
  • Approximately 5,000 people in the U.S. have been cured, but suffer from the long-term complications of Hansen’s disease, like paralysis and blindness, and continue to receive care through outpatient clinics and private physicians.
  • In some southern states of the U.S., nine-banded armadillos have been found to carry the bacterium that causes Hansen’s disease. It is thought that transmission to people may occur when they handle these animals.

Geographical distribution of new cases of Hansen’s disease reported to WHO in 2016. Courtesy of WHO. View large image and text description.

Girls and women affected by Hansen’s disease often face the added issue of gender and social discrimination.

Challenges of Hansen’s Disease

Hansen’s disease mainly affects people in resource-poor countries who live in crowded conditions and have difficulty accessing health care due to long distances to clinics familiar with Hansen’s disease, and high cost of going to the doctor. Because of this, despite the WHO’s program to provide treatment for free, many of those affected don’t complete it or don’t receive it at all. In addition, due the continued stigma against people with Hansen’s disease, they may not seek help when first symptoms appear, causing delay in diagnosis and development of disabilities.

Girls and women affected by Hansen’s disease face the added issue of gender and social discrimination, which may also delay detection of the disease. In some countries, the law allows a person to legally divorce a spouse because they are affected by the disease. Unfortunately, this may leave many women destitute, homeless, and unable to care for their children.

Many people living with Hansen’s disease are unable to work due to disability caused by the disease or may face stigma that prevents them from working.

The good news is that Hansen’s disease is curable. Education and improving access to basic health services for all are keys to successful elimination of stigma and disability associated with the illness.

Hansen’s Disease Myths Busters

There are some common misconceptions about Hansen’s disease that continue to cause confusion and fuel stigma and discrimination. Here are eight common myths and facts about the disease.

Myth Fact
Leprosy is very contagious (easy to catch) Leprosy (Hansen’s disease) is hard to catch, and in fact, 95% of adults cannot catch it because their immune system can fight off the bacteria that causes HD.
Leprosy causes the fingers and toes to fall off The digits do not “fall off” due to leprosy. The bacteria that causes leprosy attacks the nerves of the fingers and toes and causes them to become numb. Burns and cuts on numb parts may go unnoticed, which may lead to infection and permanent damage, and eventually the body may reabsorb the digit. This happens in advanced stages of untreated disease.
The leprosy described in historical texts is the same leprosy we know today Historical leprosy is not the same as modern leprosy. The “leprosy” found in historical and religious texts described a variety of skin conditions from rashes and patchy skin to swelling. They were noted to be very contagious, which is not true for Hansen’s disease and also did not have some of the most obvious signs of Hansen’s disease, like disfigurement, blindness, and loss of pain sensation. The term was also used for mildew on a person’s clothes, possessions or living quarters.
Leprosy is the result of a sin or curse Leprosy is caused by the slow-growing bacterium Mycobacterium leprae and is not the result of one’s behavior or a curse.
People who have leprosy need to live in special houses isolated from healthy people People with leprosy who are being treated with antibiotics can live a normal life among their family and friends and can continue to attend work or school.
You can get leprosy when sitting next to someone who has the disease You cannot get leprosy through casual contact such as shaking hands, sitting next to or talking to someone who has the disease.
Once you catch leprosy, you will die Leprosy can be cured with antibiotic treatment.
You are contagious until your treatment is complete A person is not contagious within a few days of starting the treatment with antibiotics. However, the treatment must be finished as prescribed (which may take up to 2 years) to make sure the infection doesn’t come back.

What You Can Do to Help

Many people think of leprosy as an ancient disease that was eradicated many years ago. But each year, thousands of men, women, and children all over the world develop this disease. Despite effective treatment, leprosy is one of the world’s most stigmatized diseases, and people living with leprosy-related disabilities in many countries are shunned, denied basic human rights, and discriminated against. The stigma of leprosy affects the physical, psychological, social, and economic well-being of those with leprosy, contributing to the cycle of poverty in the affected regions.

During World Leprosy Day, we seek to increase public understanding of Hansen’s disease and tackle the social stigma attached to this completely curable disease.

How can you do your part?

  • Educate yourself about Hansen’s disease and share with friends and family that leprosy is a curable illness.
  • Educating yourself and others about leprosy helps depict a positive image of leprosy and increase awareness about it in your community.
  • Promoting a positive image of leprosy helps focus on the abilities of the affected individuals rather than disability.
  • Search for World Leprosy Day activities online and see what’s happening in your area.

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