Dr. Ira Shah
Leprosy - Patient Education
What is the Leprosy ?
Leprosy is an ancient disease, mentioned in ancient scripts. It is a chronic debilitating disease that affects the skin, nerves and also subcutaneous fat. It is caused by a bacteria called as mycobacterium leprae (pronounced as my-co-bacterium lep-ray). India still has the highest number of cases of leprosy in the world. Leprosy is a disease associated with lot of social stigma due to the disfiguring skin lesions but is not very contagious.

How does Leprosy spread ?
The leprosy infection spreads from humans to humans. Physical contact with an infected patient is the main way that leprosy spreads. However it has been found that less than 5% of spouses of patients with leprosy get the disease. Thus, it also depends on the person’s immunity. Sometimes infection may occur with use of infected syringes and tattooing needles.

What are the symptoms of Leprosy ?
The early signs of leprosy are light coloured patches on the skin with loss of pain and touch sensation over that area. Patients cannot even recognize change in temperature over the area. After some time, skin becomes thick, red and shiny more prominently on face and hands. Sometime boils and ulcers also occur in the fingers. Untreated patients will have loss of eyebrows, disfiguring skin lesions and even loss of fingers and toes due to affection of nerves that carry the pain fibres leading to chronic ulcers.

How is leprosy diagnosed ?
Leprosy is a 100% treatable disease but requires long term medication. If any type of skin color changes occur and there is no without pain or irritation over that area then you must contact your skin specialist. A skin biopsy will be taken by the dermatologist and leprosy is diagnosed through examination of that biopsy specimen under the microscope. Under the microscope the leprae germ will be seen.

What is the treatment of leprosy ?
Treatment of leprosy is long and it should be treated with patience. It is 100% curable and with proper hygienic measures, proper diet and adequate treatment it can be treated. There are several drugs used for the treatment of leprosy such as Dapsone and thalidomide. These drugs may be given for a period of 6 months to 2 years and even longer is required.

How can leprosy be prevented?
Physical contact with an infected person should be avoided.

Are there any vaccines to prevent leprosy ?
At present there is no established vaccine against Leprosy.

Leprosy Leprosy 08/01/2015
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