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Leprosy: Types, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Leprosy is a bacterial infection that causes nerve damage in the legs, arms and skin areas around the body, skin ulcers and muscle weakness. It is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. Leprosy is also known as Hansen's disease.

According to the WHO report, the global prevalence at the end of 2016 was 171, 948 with a prevalence rate of 0.23 per 10,000 population [1] .

Leprosy disease spreads through contact with the mucous secretions of a person infected with leprosy. It usually happens when a person sneezes or coughs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the disease has an average incubation period of five years.

Types Of Leprosy [2]

  • Tuberculoid leprosy - It is a mild, less severe form of leprosy which causes few patches of pale-coloured skin. The skin may feel numb because of the damaged nerve underneath.
  • Lepromatous leprosy - This type of leprosy affects the nerves, skin, and other organs. Lepromatous leprosy is more contagious.
  • Borderline leprosy - This form of leprosy shows the features of both tuberculoid and lepromatous leprosy. It is also characterised by numerous asymmetrical lesions.

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Symptoms Of Leprosy

  • Skin lesions
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness in the hands, arms, legs and feet
  • Loss of eyebrows or eyelashes
  • Dry or thick skin
  • Painless ulcers on the soles of feet
  • Painless swelling or lumps on the face
  • Discoloured patches of skin
  • Enlarged nerves

Complications Of Leprosy

  • Hair loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Disfigurement
  • Inability to use hands and feet
  • Iritis, an inflammation of the iris in the eye
  • Blindness
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Infertility
  • Permanent nerve damage in the legs and arms
  • Glaucoma
  • Chronic nasal congestion and nosebleeds
  • Kidney failure

Diagnosis Of Leprosy [3]

A physical examination will be conducted by the doctor and a biopsy is also done by removing a small piece of skin or nerve and is sent to the laboratory for testing.

The doctor may also perform a lepromin skin test to determine the form of leprosy by injecting a small amount of inactivated leprosy-causing bacterium into the upper forearm.

A person with tuberculoid or borderline leprosy will yield positive results at the site of the injection.

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Treatment of Leprosy [4]

In 1995, WHO developed a multidrug therapy to cure all types of leprosy. In addition, several antibiotics are used to treat leprosy by killing the bacteria that cause it. These antibiotics are dapsone, clofazimine, minocycline, ofloxacin, and rifampin.

Anti-inflammatory medicines are used for leprosy treatment to control nerve pain and damage. These medicines include aspirin, thalidomide, or prednisone.

The treatment for leprosy could last for months or up to 1 to 2 years.

How To Prevent Leprosy

Avoid long-term, close contact with a person infected with leprosy.

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View Article References
  1. [1] Rao, P. N., & Suneetha, S. (2018). Current Situation of Leprosy in India and its Future Implications.Indian dermatology online journal,9(2), 83–89.
  2. [2] Thakkar, S., & Patel, S. V. (2014). Clinical profile of leprosy patients: a prospective study.Indian journal of dermatology,59(2), 158–162.
  3. [3] Sengupta, U. (2019). Recent laboratory advances in diagnostics and monitoring response to treatment in leprosy.Indian dermatology online journal,10(2), 106.
  4. [4] Lastória, J. C., & Abreu, M. A. (2014). Leprosy: review of the epidemiological, clinical, and etiopathogenic aspects - part 1.Anais brasileiros de dermatologia,89(2), 205–218.