What is Leprosy?

Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. Usually called Hansen’s Disease, leprosy can cause nerve damage and affect the skin and extremities. It can spread between people through nasal secretions and in the air through coughing and sneezing, as well as through hand-to-hand contact. Fortunately, most people are naturally immune to the bacterium that causes leprosy.

A disease similar to modern-day leprosy has been around for thousands of years. Once it was considered a slow and painful death sentence, but in modern times it is easily treated with antibiotics.

Because leprosy impacts the nerves, sufferers lose feeling in their extremities. That inability to feel their fingers, toes, noses, etc., can lead to those body parts getting easily injured or infected.

What are the Symptoms of Leprosy?

In the early stages of leprosy, you may see spots on your skin that are slightly light or dark. Eventually, the spots become numb and you lose any hair on the affected skin. Other patients don’t have spots, but may feel numbness in their fingers or toes. These symptoms increase in severity very gradually, over the course of 2 to 10 years.

Advanced leprosy causes muscle paralysis. Your hands may curl unnaturally and you may lose the ability to blink. Nerves in your legs stop working and you don’t feel your feet. These issues can lead to the loss of extremities, blindness and deformity.

How is Leprosy Treated?

Leprosy can be treated through a long-term course of antibiotics. Your doctor may have you take a combination of antibiotics for a period of 6 months to 2 years to ensure the bacteria are completely gone from your body.

There are often no remaining issues after leprosy has been treated. However, if you had already begun to feel numbness before you received treatment, you may have permanent nerve damage.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
September 01, 2017
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