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Leprosy is an infectious disease derived from the French work "leper" and from the Greek word "lepros" which means scaly, referring to the scales that form on the skin in some cases of leprosy and that has been known since biblical times. Leprosy is characterized by disfiguring skin sores, nerve damage, and progressive debilitation. Leprosy is caused by a bacterium which affects various parts of the body, including in particular the skin and nerves. Leprosy is a difficult disease to transmit and has a long incubation period. Children are more susceptible than adults to contracting the disease.

Types of Leprosy
There are two main types of leprosy:

  1. Tuberculoid
  2. Lepromatous

Both types of leprosy produce lesions on the skin, but the latter form i.e. Lepromatous is most severe which produces large disfiguring nodules.

Complications of Leprosy
Leprosy can cause:

  • Cosmetic Disfigurement
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Nerve Damage in the Extremities
  • Sensory Loss in the Skin

Long-term leprosy may lose the use of hands or feet due to repeated injury resulting from lack of sensation.

Alternative Name of Leprosy: Hansen's disease

Causes of Leprosy
Leprosy is caused by the organism

  • Mycobacterium leprae: Mycobacterium leprae grow slowly and mainly affect the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes. Children are more susceptible than adults to contracting the disease.
  • Person to Person: Most scientists believe that leprosy spreads from person to person through infected respiratory droplets. While this is one mode of leprosy transmission. People who are at the greatest risk of leprosy transmission are:
    • Parents of someone with leprosy
    • Children of someone with leprosy
    • Brothers or sisters of someone with leprosy.
  • The extent of exposure
  • Genetics
  • Environmental conditions

Leprosy is common in many countries worldwide, and in temperate, tropical, and subtropical climates. Effective medications exist, and isolation of victims in leper colonies is unnecessary.

Signs & Symptoms of Leprosy
Leprosy symptoms generally appear three to five years after a person becomes infected with the bacteria that cause the disease. However, it can take as short as a few months or several decades. Leprosy symptoms include:

  • Eye Problems
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Skin Rash
  • Skin Stiffness
  • Skin lesions that are lighter than your normal skin color
    • Lesions have decreased sensation to touch, heat, or pain
    • Lesions do not heal after several weeks to months
  • Numbness or absent sensation in the hands, arms, feet, and legs

It is important to note that not all leprosy patients lose their fingers and toes. With early diagnosis and leprosy treatment, many of these symptoms can be prevented.

Diagnosis of Leprosy
While diagnosis leprosy a doctor can ask several question about patient's symptoms, current medical condition, and medication etc. The doctor can make a definitive diagnosis of leprosy by doing a test called a skin biopsy.

  • Lepromin skin test can be used to distinguish lepromatous from tuberculoid leprosy, but is not used for diagnosis.
  • Skin scraping examination for acid fast bacteria

Preventions of Leprosy
Because leprosy can be cured with medicines, an early diagnosis will often reduce leprosy symptoms and complications. Therefore, while prevention of leprosy is not always possible, especially where leprosy is endemic, control should be possible.

Prevention consists of

  • Avoiding  physical contact with untreated people
  • People who are in immediate contact with the leprosy patient should be tested for leprosy.
  • Annual examinations should also be conducted on these people for a period of five years following their last contact with an infectious patient
  • Reconstructive surgery is aimed at preventing and correcting deformities.
  • Comprehensive care involves teaching patients to care for themselves.
  • Physiotherapy exercises are taught to the patients to maintain a range of movement in finger joints and prevent the deformities from worsening.

Treatments of Leprosy
Historically, there was no cure for leprosy. With early diagnosis and treatment of leprosythe symptoms and complications can be minimized.

It is important to note that treatment of leprosy differs depending upon the form of the disease. Treatment will generally continue for one year for tuberculoid leprosy and for two years for lepromatous leprosy.

Treatment of leprosy typically involves medicines along with supportive care. Supportive care is aimed at treating symptoms and associated complications. A number of different antibiotics are used to kill the bacteria that causes the disease.

  • Aspirin, prednisone, or thalidomide are used to control inflammation.
  • Many times, medicine for treatment of leprosy can be provided at no cost to patients by their family doctor or through the Hansen's Disease Clinic closest to them. A person should see improvements after two to three months of beginning treatment.

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