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Leprosy is a contagious disease that causes severe nerve damage and disfiguring skin sores in different parts of the body. It is also known as Hansen’s disease and mostly affects the areas like arms, legs, etc. The disease has affected people in ancient times. You may have heard about the terrifying tales associated with the disease. Even today, affected people are shunned by society in some parts of the world. The negative stigma associated with the disease is still prevalent. Although several steps are still taken to completely eradicate the disease, the outbreak of leprosy still has people panicking. In countries like India, China, and some of the African countries, the disease evokes fear in the minds of people. People in these parts of the world still consider it as an incurable disease that can mutilate the body parts.
Many still believe the disease as contagious in nature. But, people never realize that they can get affected by the disease with frequent and close contact with an untreated affected person. The droplet from the nose and mouth of the affected person can cause the infection to spread. It mostly affects children compared to adults. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.5 lakh people get affected by Hansen’s disease. The majority of the patients reside in Asia or African countries. The problem affects developed nations like the USA too. Therefore, it is essential to gain comprehensive information about the disease. With proper knowledge, you can handle the challenges associated with the disease.
Causes Of Leprosy
Leprosy is a chronic infection occurring due to a specific type of bacteria. The slow-growing bacteria known as Mycobacterium leprae can affect the nerves of hand and feet. It also affects the skin adversely. The problem is also known as Hansen’s disease (named after the scientist Gerhard Armauer Hansen in 1873).
Symptoms Of Leprosy
M.leprae bacteria affects your skin as well as the nerves known as peripheral nerves. It is the nerves found outside your brain and spinal cord. The bacteria can also affect the thin lining of tissue inside your nose. Leprosy can affect your eyes leading to vision problems. So, people affected by the disease can experience the following signs:
- Disfigurement due to skin sores
- Bumps or lumps that do not go away (even after several weeks or months)
- Pale-colored skin sores
The bacteria can trigger nerve damage. Due to the nerve damage under the affected skin, the affected person can suffer the following:
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of feeling in the legs and arms
Incubation Period Of Leprosy
In most cases, people develop symptom three to five years after coming in contact with M.leprae. Some people see the symptoms of the disease for twenty years. You need to understand that leprosy has a long incubation period. Incubation period refers to the time taken between the contact with M.leprae and developing symptoms. So, the extended incubation period makes it difficult for the doctors to determine the exact time and place where the person got infected.
Different Forms Of Leprosy
The type of Hansen’s disease is determined by the type and number of skin sores the affected person has. You exhibit the specific signs based on the type of disease you get affected. Your doctor can develop a proper treatment plan depending on the disease type. So, the different forms are:
Also known as paucibacillary leprosy, it is the mild and less severe form of the disease. People suffering from the specific type of disease have only one or few patches on the skin. The flat, pale-colored skin has no reaction to pricking or pain. The affected patches of skin feel numb. It is due to the nerve damage occurring underneath the affected skin. The type of Hansen’s disease is comparatively less contagious compared to other forms.
It is the more severe form of the disease. A person affected by the disease can experience widespread rashes and bumps. It is also referred to as multibacillary leprosy. The individuals suffering from the disease can experience muscle weakness along with numbness. It is the most contagious form of the disease, which needs proper treatment. Ignoring treatment can lead to damage to several organs like:
- Male reproductive organs
It is the type of Hansen’s disease with symptoms of both lepromatous and tuberculoid forms. The patches look like a tuberculoid form. While the affected person can have several lesions on the skin. So, the type of disease can result in several red, irregular plaques on your skin.
Some developing countries suffer from the attack of Hansen’s disease more compared to developed countries. So, people who travel to developing countries that have leprosy affected areas need to maintain caution. If you feel you have contracted the infection, then see your doctor.
In most cases, the doctor diagnoses the problem with visual recognition. The doctor evaluates the signs and symptom you suffer. The presence of one of the signs can indicate the disease:
- Skin lesion with sensory loss
- Lesion on your skin with/without thickened nerves
Either of the signs indicates Hansen’s disease. Based on the severity of the problem, your doctor adopts a treatment plan.
In developed countries, it is hard to diagnose the problem based on visual inspection. Therefore, doctors can suggest a skin biopsy. Your doctor takes a small sample of the suspicious skin sore. The sample sent to the lab for testing can reveal the presence of disease.
Skin Smear Test
The skin smear test can detect the type of leprosy. When a sample of your sore skin gets assessed in the lab, it can detect the bacterial presence. While paucibacillary leprosy may not have a bacterial presence, the multibacillary type can have a bacterial presence. The type of Hansen’s disease can help your doctor devise a proper treatment plan to cure the ailment.
Treatment Options Available To Cure Leprosy
Although leprosy is contagious, you can cure the disease with proper medical intervention. In the last two decades, a huge number of people affected by the disease have attained relief from it due to proper treatment. World Health Organization offers free treatment for people suffering from the disease. It has enabled more than 16 million people around the world to get relief from the contagious disease. The treatment depends on the type of Hansen’s disease you suffer. In most cases, the following treatment option can alleviate the disease completely:
In the majority of the people affected by the disease, antibiotics can offer relief. It treats the infection and alleviates the distress. But, it cannot reverse the nerve damage caused due to the problem. Some people require long-term treatment for treatment. So, combining two or more antibiotics given for six months to a year can cure the disease. Severe cases of the disease need longer antibiotics treatment. So, the antibiotics used to treat the disease are:
Depending on the severity of the disease, your doctor decides the combination of drugs. The antibiotics can kill M.lepromatosis and M.leprae bacteria. It also overcomes the resistance caused by the disease.
You can suffer from pain due to the nerve damage caused by Hansen’s disease. Therefore, your doctor suggests taking anti-inflammatory drugs. It reduces the nerve pain as well as damage related to the disease. In most cases, the doctors prescribe steroids like prednisone for offering relief from distress.
Treat Skin Nodules
The disease can trigger skin deformities. So, the doctors suggest taking thalidomide. It is a potent medication that suppresses your body’s immune system. So, it helps manage skin nodules developed due to the disease. But, thalidomide has severe side-effects. It is not prescribed for expectant mothers as it can cause severe birth defects. Therefore, ladies who plan to get pregnant must never take thalidomide.
Even after getting therapy, the dead bacteria takes years to clear from the body. The complex construction of the bacteria leads to the problem. So, it takes time for your immune system to clear the bacteria from your body bit by bit.
Complication Due To Not Getting Treatment For Leprosy
When a person gets affected by leprosy, it is important to get treatment as early as possible. Without getting proper treatment, a person affected by the disease can experience damage to the following body parts:
Without medical help, you can suffer irreversible damage to different areas of the body. it also results in several complications. So, you can experience the following:
People suffering from leprosy need treatment else it can lead to vision problems. Issues like blindness or glaucoma can affect you. The disease can affect a cooler anterior segment of your eyes like cornea, iris, sclera, lens, and ciliary body. Therefore, it can lead to irreversible damage to your vision.
The sores, swelling, lumps, and bumps on the face can cause disfiguration. It can affect your self-confidence. You tend to shy away from people and live an isolated life due to the deformity.
Sexual Issues In Men
Leprosy can affect testosterone production in men. So, it can lead to infertility in affected men. Some people also suffer from erectile dysfunction (the inability to keep the erection for a long time).
The disease can affect several organs including kidneys. So, if you tend to ignore the disease, then it can lead to complications like kidney failure.
People affected by Hansen’s disease can experience muscle weakness. Therefore, affected individuals tend to have claw-like hands. They also find it difficult to flex their feet leading to problems with mobility.
Leprosy can permanently damage the inside of the nose of the affected people. So, it can lead to several nose problems like:
- Stuffy nose
People suffering from Hansen’s disease can experience problems with the nerves. The nerve problem affected the brain and spinal cord can trigger permanent problems. Some lose the feeling in their organs. Others can suffer from the inability to feel pain. So, individuals suffering from the disease can expect issues in the following organs:
It causes the affected person to lose sensation in the above-mentioned organs. The nerve damage can lead to not feeling anything even with cuts, burns, or other injuries.
Stigma Associated With Leprosy
Hansen’s disease can cause stigma. The disease found mostly in developing countries can result in isolation of the affected person. It is a misunderstood disease, which leads to homelessness. In several developing countries, you can find leper colonies. It is to shun the people who are affected by the disease. Countries like China, India, and some countries in Africa still have such colonies to isolate affected people.
Negative Attitude From The Society
Society shuns people affected by the disease due to its contagious nature. Everyone fears that they can also get the disease if they come in contact with the diseased person. But, no medical reason exists that makes it a requirement to remove the affected people from society. Once you get treatment for the disease, the contagious nature diminishes. So, a person getting medical assistance for the disease for two to four weeks is safe to contact others. While the World Health Organization (WHO) works tirelessly to eradicate leprosy, the attitude of people remains difficult to change.
Less Success In Life
Individuals who bear the scar of the disease experience setbacks in their personal as well as professional life. In the professional front, affected people find it difficult to get a job or earn less. People trying to find a partner for life face difficulty. The prospect of marriage decreases due to the disease.
In some cases, mothers affected by Hansen’s disease stop breastfeeding their children. In some areas, the children of affected parents get shunned from their homes as well as villages permanently. The head of villages tries to isolate the families with one or more individual affected by the disease.
Apart from the physical scars caused by the disease, it can also cause emotional scars. People affected by Hansen’s disease can experience emotional stress. The problem can also increase anxiety in affected people. So, it leads to mental health issues. Some people go into further isolation. At times, affected individuals can decide to stop treatment. They find nothing positive in life, which leads to a feeling of worthlessness. The disease can lead to marginalization, which can lead to unemployment. So, people affected by the disease resort to begging to meet their daily expenses. The condition can add additional stress.
Increased Risk Of Transmission
The fear of the stigma leads to affected people hiding their disease from others. So, it leads to an affected person not seeking medical help or treatment. So, people who contact the disease experience complication. They also increase the risk of transmitting the disease to others in the community. Therefore, people need to educate themselves about the disease to get the necessary cure. It also helps them take a compassionate attitude towards others affected by the disease.
You can prevent the disease from affecting you or spreading to others. Early diagnosis and treatment can help you overcome the problem without too many complications. The disease prevails in developing countries. It is high in areas that face poverty, lack of education, and insufficient medical infrastructure to handle the problem. You can take a positive step towards eradicating leprosy with the following steps:
Education And Self-Care Support
Providing self-education materials (like booklets) can spread awareness about the disease to the general public. It also helps people affected by it to know what they can expect. It helps them deal with the problem in a better manner. The self-care support kits will prevent injuries associated with the disease and avoid further complications. So, it helps affected people care for their sores and wounds in a proper manner.
Monitor The Condition
It is important to monitor the affected person constantly. It eliminates the possibility of spreading the disease to others. Constant monitoring also allows assessment of the symptoms. So, it is easy to refer the severe cases for getting advanced medical treatment.
Managing Injuries And Disabilities
People with chronic disease can develop an injury or disability. Therefore, it is essential to get the proper information to deal with the issues arising due to the disease.
People affected by the disease can get injured easily. Therefore, they need to get proper information about the injuries they can suffer. It is also essential to know proper wound cleaning methods to prevent other infections.
If you have visited leprosy hit areas or come in contact with an affected person, you need to undergo annual checkups. You need to get checked for symptoms for at least five years. It will help you spot early symptoms of the disease and deal with the problem before it worsens.
Though you have no particular vaccine to prevent the disease, important progress in the scientific field offers hope. But, it is essential to educate people with programs that will eradicate the stigma and misunderstanding associated with the disease. Humanitarian programs can help deal with proper care and management of the disease in a better manner.
The lack of knowledge about leprosy has serious repercussions. Some believe the disease does not exist, which leads to a misdiagnosis of the problem. While others who understand the contagious nature of the disease tend to isolate affected people. They prefer sending affected individuals to leprosariums or leper colonies. The mentality that it is a punishment for sinners or evil people only worsens the problem. You need to educate yourself with proper information about the disease to seek proper treatment for the problem. You can save yourself or your loved ones suffering from the problem by taking the right action at the necessary time.View Article Sources