Leprosy: Myths and Facts

Today is World Leprosy Day and to support the movement and awareness of leprosy, a disease may of us do not really understand, we have decided to write an article on the myths and facts about leprosy.

What is Leprosy? 

Leprosy is an infectious disease that has been known since biblical times. This disease causes skin sores, nerve damage, and muscle weakness that gets worse over time. Leprosy is also called Hansen disease.

What Causes Leprosy? 

Leprosy is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. Experts believe that the bacteria spread when a person breathes in tiny airborne droplets released when someone with leprosy coughs or sneezes. The bacteria may also be passed on by coming into contact with the nasal fluids of a person with leprosy.

Does Leprosy Have Forms?

Yes it does.

Leprosy has 2 common forms: tuberculoid and lepromatous. Both forms produce sores on the skin. However, the lepromatous form is more severe. It causes large lumps and bumps (nodules).

Is Leprosy Contagious?

It is not very contagious. Although it has a long incubation period (time before symptoms appear), which makes it hard to know where or when someone caught the disease. Children are more likely than adults to get the disease.

Most people who come in contact with the bacteria don’t develop the disease. This is because their immune system is able to fight off the bacteria.

Is Leprosy Common?

Leprosy is common in many countries worldwide, and in temperate, tropical, and subtropical climates. About 100 cases per year are diagnosed in the United States. Most cases are in the south, California, Hawaii, and U.S. islands, and Guam.

The Nigerian federal government has revealed that Nigeria records about 3,000 new cases of leprosy, second after Ethiopia each year, and more disturbing are the new cases in children which is reported to be above 10%.

Drug-resistant Mycobacterium leprae and an increased numbers of cases worldwide have led to global concern for this disease.


Are People Infected With Leprosy “Lepers”?

Referring to victims of the disease as lepers is derogatory, says Dr Moses Onoh, the director of the Leprosy Mission in Nigeria. He further states that the proper way to define them is “ persons affected by leprosy as it is a disease that can affect anyone”. He also calls for good general hygiene as the disease is caused by germs that reside and breed in dirty environments.

He said the reason why the ailment still persists is because most people do not know the signs and symptoms and as such do not come out early enough for treatment.

What Are The Symptoms Of Leprosy? 

What Tests and Exams Can Be Used To Diagnose Leprosy?

  • Skin Lesion biopsy
  • Skin scraping examination

The lepromin skin test can be used to tell the 2 different forms of leprosy apart, but the test isn’t used to diagnose the disease.

How Can Leprosy Be Treated?

Several antibiotics are used to kill the bacteria that cause the disease. These include dapsone, rifampin, clofazamine, fluoroquinolones, macrolides, and minocycline. More than 1 antibiotic is often given together.

Aspirin, prednisone, or thalidomide is used to control inflammation.

How Early Must The Disease Be Diagnosed?

Diagnosing the disease early is important. Early treatment limits damage, prevents a person from spreading the disease, and reduces long-term complications.

What Health Problems Could Result From Leprosy? 

Health problems that may result from leprosy include:

  • Disfigurement
  • Muscle weakness
  • Permanent nerve damage in the arms and legs
  • Loss of sensation

People with long-term leprosy may lose the use of their hands or feet due to repeated injury because they lack feeling in those areas.



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