The disease Leprosy can be traced back to as early as 4,000 BC. Unfortunately, leprosy has been misunderstood for most of its existence. Many used to believe that Leprosy was a curse from the Gods, so instead of being treated by doctors, most people were treated by priests. It was also widely believed that the disease was hereditary and people who suffered from it were treated as outcasts and were quarantined from those individuals who were not infected with the disease.
Leprosy is a disease that is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium Leprae. This specific type of bacteria causes skin damage and damage to the peripheral nervous system. Leprosy is a slow developing disease that can result in skin lesions and physical deformities. There are two basic types of leprosy, Tuberculoid and Lepromatous.
People who suffer from Tuberculoid Leprosy are only infected with a small amount of the bacteria. The effects of the disease are limited in these individuals. However, individuals who suffer from Lepromatous Leprosy are considered to be fully infected with the bacteria. In these serious cases, the disease is widespread throughout the body and the effects are much more severe.
The most common places for the skin lesions and physical deformities to appear are the eyes, nose, earlobes, hands and feet. In 1873, Doctor Hansen discovered that leprosy was an infectious disease and not a punishment by the Gods, as people had mistakenly believed. Because of his discovery, leprosy is sometimes referred to as Hansen’s Disease by physicians. By addressing it by a different name, it takes away some of the prejudices that people who suffer from the disease may experience.
It is hard to immediately detect leprosy in an individual because the symptoms are very subtle and they come about very slowly.
- One of the first symptoms seen in leprosy patients is numbness and loss of temperature sensation in which an individual can no longer sense the varying feelings of hot or cold temperatures.
- As the disease progresses, the affected individual’s sensation of touch, pain, and pressure become severely decreased or even lost altogether.
- The infected person then goes on to develop the telltale skin lesions, open sores and ulcers. Although these skin conditions are unsightly, they are relatively painless.
- These skin conditions will develop prior to the formation of larger ulcers.
- The loss of digits and facial disfigurement begin to occur shortly after the larger ulcers form.
Causes And Risk Factors
The most common cause of leprosy is human to human transmission. Humans pass the bacteria Mycobacterium Leprae along to one other. This bacteria is commonly known as an acid fast bacteria because it has chemical characteristics. Researchers have found that the bacteria is commonly spread via nasal secretions. The only way to develop leprosy is to come into contact with someone who is carrying the disease.
Some researchers believe that there may also be a genetic component for a particular gene that is passed down among families. Having this gene in the family bloodline may make an individual more susceptible to contracting the bacteria that causes the disease.
There are also some other species that carry the disease, such as chimpanzees, mangabey monkeys and nine-banded armadillos. Even though these species carry the disease, it is very rare that they can transmit the disease to humans.
The only way to prevent contracting leprosy is to avoid contact with someone who has been infected with the disease. People who are currently living with a person who is infected and untreated are eight times more likely to develop the disease. Even though people can be exposed to the disease by traveling around the world, the disease is not highly contagious and about 95 percent of the time, exposure to the disease does not cause the person to contract the disease. In addition, even though the aforementioned animals rarely transfer the disease to humans, it is not wise to handle these animals when they are in the wild.
Most cases of leprosy are treated with antibiotics. A few of the antibiotics used are dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine. The amount of antibiotics required for treatment and how often the antibiotics are administered is based on the diagnosis of the individual and determined by how far along he is in the disease progression. The bacteria that causes leprosy can be completely eradicated from the body through the use of the antibiotics.
However, the antibiotics cannot take away the damage that has already been done to a person who was inflicted with the disease. Surgery is only used as a treatment for the disease after the antibiotic treatments have concluded and there are no more bacteria left in the body. Most of the time, surgery is only needed in advanced cases of leprosy and is used for cosmetic improvements to the skin and as a means of restoring some of the nerve damage caused by the disease.