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.

Social Effects

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.

Copyright 2006 Maya Leprosy Fund.