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Leprosy, sometimes known as Hansen's disease, is an infectious disease caused by infection by Mycobacterium leprae, an aerobic, acid fast, rod-shaped mycobacterium. The modern name of the disease comes from the discoverer of Mycobacterium leprae, Gerhard Armauer Hansen. Sufferers from Hansen's disease have generally been called lepers, although this term is falling into disuse both from the diminishing number of leprosy patients and from pressure to avoid the demeaning connotations of the term. Also, this term can lead to public misunderstanding because the terms leprosy and leper are used in the Bible to describe a wide range of incurable skin conditions.

Leprosy used to be incurable and severely disfiguring. Lepers were shunned and sequestered in leper colonies. Today, leprosy is easily curable by multidrug antibiotic therapy. The main challenges for Hansen's disease elimination efforts are to reach populations that have not yet received multidrug therapy services, improve detection of the disease, and provide patients with high-quality services and affordable drugs. Other than humans, the only animal known to be susceptible to leprosy is the armadillo.

history of leprosy

Hansen's disease has been recognized as a problem since the beginning of recorded history. It has been reported as early as 1350 BC in Egypt, making it the oldest disease known according to Guinness World Records. Lepers have frequently lived on the edge of society, and the disease was often believed to have been caused by a divine (or demonic) curse or punishment. However, in the Middle Ages it was believed that lepers are cursed by humans, but loved by God.

The Bible contains many references to "leprosy", which do not necessarily concern Hansen's disease. These words seem to have been used to cover a number of skin conditions of different etiology and severity. Under ancient Israelite law, the priests were required to be able to diagnose leprosy. The Israelites also used quarantine to prevent its spread.

In the Middle Ages, it was believed that leprosy is highly contagious and could be spread by the glance of a leper or an unseen leper standing upwind of healthy people. Nowadays, it is known that leprosy is much less contagious.

Minorities like the Navarrese agotes or French cagots were accused of being lepers.

leprosy symptoms

The disease is caused by a mycobacterium which multiplies very slowly and mainly affects the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes. The organism has never been grown in bacteriologic media or cell culture, but has been grown in mouse foot pads and more recently in nine-banded armadilloes. It is related to M. tuberculosis, the mycobacterium that causes tuberculosis. The difficulty in culturing the organism appears to be due to the fact that the organism is an obligate intra-cellular parasite that lacks many necessary genes for independent survival. This loss of genes is apparently also the reason for the extremely slow replication rate.

The mode of transmission of Hansen's disease remains uncertain. Most investigators think that M. leprae is usually spread from person to person in respiratory droplets. What is known is that the transmission rate is very low. In addition, it appears that a majority of the population is naturally immune. Also, contrary to popular belief, Hansen's disease does not cause rotting of the flesh; however, due to nerve damage, extremities may become numb which may lead to minor infected wounds being unnoticed until damage is permanent.

Symptoms of leprosy are usually seen affecting the skin and peripheral nerves but has a wide range of possible clinical manifestations. Patients are classified as having paucibacillary or multibacillary Hansen's disease. Paucibacillary Hansen's disease is milder and characterized by one or more hypopigmented skin macules. Multibacillary Hansen's disease is associated with symmetric skin lesions, nodules, plaques, thickened dermis, and frequent involvement of the nasal mucosa resulting in nasal congestion and epistaxis (nose bleeds).

Disclaimer: Information shared in this section is indicative. Please do not make any conclusion and we strongly recommend you to consult with your Doctor. Symptoms may vary with individual, geography, climate and lifestyle