A disease that has been dreaded for centuries, leprosy has plenty of stigmas attached to it. The treatment for the disease has, however, evolved impressively, making it a treatable condition today. Know more about the disease to overcome prejudices and to have a clear understanding of transmission, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.
What Causes Leprosy?
Also known as Hansen’s disease, it is caused by a slow-growing bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae (M. leprae). Given that it multiplies slowly, the average incubation period is between 3-5 years. There are cases when symptoms have surfaced within a year, while in other cases it has taken as long as 20 years to occur.
The mode of transmission is through close and repeated contact with nose or mouth fluids from someone with untreated leprosy. Children are more susceptible to contract the bacteria than adults.
Signs and Symptoms of Leprosy
Leprosy affects the skin and the peripheral nerves that are located near the brain and spinal cord. It can also affect other parts of the body, such as the kidneys, eyes, tissue inside the nose, and male reproductive organs.
The chief symptom is the disfiguring, pale-coloured skin sores. It includes lumps that do not go away even after weeks or months.
Types of Leprosy
Treatment depends on the type of leprosy:
- Tuberculoid: The mildest among the three types, people infected often have only one or a few patches of skin sores. The affected spot can feel numb owing to nerve damage underneath. This form is less contagious than others.
- Lepromatous: More severe than tuberculoid, this type typically exhibits widespread skin rashes and lumps, accompanied by muscle weakness and numbness. It is more widespread in the body and is also far more contagious.
- Borderline: In this type, those affected exhibit symptoms of both tuberculoid and lepromatous forms.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The bottom line – leprosy can be cured. 16 million people with leprosy have been cured in the last two decades. WHO (World Health Organization) provides free treatment for leprosy, liaising with local government and health centres. The treatment plan depends on the type of leprosy. Antibiotics are used to treat the infection, while anti-inflammatory drugs are used to control nerve pain and damage.