Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease which attacks the skin,
peripheral nerves and mucous membranes (esp. the eyes and
respiratory tract). Leprosy is also known as Hansen's disease
because the bacillus which causes it was discovered by G.A.
Hansen in 1873. It is caused by an airborne bacilli(
Mycrobacterium Leprae) and is most common in warm, wet areas in
the tropics and subtropics.
Treatment of Leprosy
Since 1940 a treatment using Dapsone has been used to treat
leprosy and in recent years, multi-drug therapy(Clofazamine,
Rifampicin and Dapsone) is being used to eradicate the bacilli
from the body. The bacilli can be completely removed from the
body; but the side-effects of the disease are life-long. Of the
approximately half a million new cases each year, many are not
receiving the necessary treatment.
The majority of people who are affected by leprosy are poor and
uneducated and they need to be taught to take care of
themselves, by soaking their hands and feet, checking them for
signs of injury and oiling them to prevent the skin drying out
and hardening. Contact screening is also carried out and
research is ongoing to look into the possibility of identifying
people at risk of developing the disease.
What Leprosy Looks Like
Leprosy is characterized by multiple lesions accompanied by
sensory loss in the affected areas. Usually, sensory loss begins
in the extremities (toes, fingertips). In many cases, following
injury, ulcers form, become infected, the infection spreads to
muscle and bone resulting in the loss of digits or loss of
function. The eyes and nose can also be affected causing
difficulties with breathing and sight. Skin lesions and
deformities are often obvious and the stigma attached to this
causes great suffering to those affected.
Leprosy through all the ages has been considered one of the most
despicable diseases, victims have been rejected throughout
history and kept in separate places (leper colonies, sanitoriums).
Even today, most people with leprosy are shunned by their
neighbours and are held at arms length.