Leprosy – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Cure

Leprosy is an infectious disease in which inflammation of skin takes place along with deformity of limbs. It  is caused due to infestation of mycobacterium leprae and mycobacterium lepromatosis in human body. It is also called Hansens Disease or HD, named after Norwegian physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen, who is known to discover bacteria, responsible for outbreak of leprosy.

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Leprosy is principally a disease related to peripheral nerves and mucosa (upper respiratory tract). If a person has this disease, skin abrasions for prolonged period for time; is one of the physical symptoms of leprosy. If leprosy is not treated timely and properly it causes permanent damage to skin, limbs, eyes and various nerves of human body. Due to infection of bacteria; limbs become numb as our body’s defence mechanism is targeted towards bacteria and other infections are left unattended. Because of the very same reason fingers and toes of both hands and legs gets mutilated and abbreviated as tendons are engrossed into the human body.

Leprosy is a common disease in densely populated countries like India and China. In the year 1995, World Health Organization (WHO) surveyed countries and found that nearly 3.5 million people were permanently disabled due to leprosy and it was since then World Health Organization started taking appropriate measures for eradication of leprosy. As a result nearly 60 million people worldwide have been successfully treated for leprosy. Let us find various symptoms which help us to identify infestation of leprosy causing bacteria, diagnosis and treatment methodologies used.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

Leprosy is one the diseases which has large incubation period. It means if one is infected by leprosy causing bacteria, the symptoms would be visible after many years of infection (up to 19-21years). Infestation of bacteria largely affects the peripheral nerves (nerves outside brain and spinal cord) and the skin.  Main symptoms of leprosy are:

  • Disfiguring skin sores of pale yellow color
  • Skin lumps or bumps
  • Weakened muscles
  • Loss of sensation in arms and legs
  • Dryness of eyes

If above mentioned symptoms are not addressed on time facial disfigurement and mutilation of fingers starts to develop with time.

Treatment & Preventive measures

Leprosy is treated by prescribing combination of drugs. This type of treatment where several drugs are used for treatment of single disease is called Multi Drug Therapy or MDT. These drugs should not be administered individually to the patient also known as monotherapy. Technique of MDT was introduced as an effective way to treat leprosy because patients showed signs of resistant to dapsone, which was earlier considered an effective antibiotic against mycobacterium leprae. Various combinations of drug including dapsone, rifampicin, clofazimine, minocycline and ofloxacin are used to cure different types of leprosy e.g. combination of rifampicin and dapsone is used for treatment of paucibacillary leprosy, combination of dapsone, clofazimine and rifampicin is used for treatment of multibacillary leprosy. World health organization (WHO) has formulated below mentioned standard treatment tenure for curing leprosy

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Type of Leprosy

Durations of Treatment

Dosage

Paucibacillary (PB) Leprosy

180 days

100mg Dapsone with 600mg Rifampicin

Multibacillary (MB) Leprosy

365 days

100mg Dapsone with 600mg Rifampicin and 300mg Clofazimine

Single Lesion Paucibacillary (SLPB) Leprosy

60 days

600mg Rifampicin with 400mg Ofloxacin and 100mg Minocycline

 

Alongside above prescription Aspirin, prednisone, or thalidomide is also used to control inflammation. During the period 1994-2000, World Health Organization distributed MDT free of charge to countries where leprosy was declared endemic.

Apart from bacteria, poor hygiene conditions and malnutrition are also considered main reasons for outbreak of leprosy.

During treatment of leprosy, patient should maintain proper hygiene and take good care of infected areas. For skin lesions and dryness, patient should wash his hands and legs properly with soap and apply Vaseline or prescribed ointment. Same precautions should be taken in case of ulceration, however, there is no need to apply petroleum jelly. Patient, after washing ulcer affected skin, should cover it with a clean and sterile bandage.

Myths about leprosy –Is it contagious?

There are various myths about leprosy across the world. In various parts of India, where  the disease was endemic, people suffering from leprosy were considered as untouchables. They were deprived of social respect and often restricted from social gatherings. Main cause of such stigma was lack of awareness around the disease and how it is caused. People thought leprosy was a contagious disease and would get affected if they interact with a person suffering from it. Later due to combined efforts of World Health Organization and Government bodies, various awareness programmes were introduced along with free MDT kits available at government hospitals. Since then leprosy is no more considered to be a contagious disease. People suffering from leprosy need care, treatment and attention in the same way as other patients do and the same was educated to people.

With improving living conditions and appropriate knowledge and awareness about leprosy, people suffering from this disease have decreased by many folds. A person suffering from leprosy can lead a normal healthy life after treatment. He is no different from other people except he had a disease and bravely fought against it to be victorious.

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