Leprosy, also called Hansenís Disease, is a disease that affects the skin, mucous membranes, and nerves that connect the spinal cord to the muscles (peripheral nervous system). In rare, but serious cases, the disease may also affect the eyes, liver, spleen, muscles, and bone marrow. If a person with the disease goes untreated, their hands and feet may deform.
In many places, people with leprosy have been neglected and misjudged because of their deformities from the disease. Believe it or not, some people INCORRECTLY think that leprosy isn't curable or that it's caused by bad behavior, eating dried fish, or having impure blood. All of that is wrong so read on to learn the truth about leprosy.
Leprosy is caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae or Hansen's bacillus. Leprosy is named after a Norwegian physician Gerhard H. Armauer Hansen. He observed the bacteria in tissue from patients. He learned the disease is caused by bacteria. It is unclear how leprosy goes from body to body, some think it is from inhaling the bacteria. Others believe it could be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Symptoms of leprosy seem to occur 3-5 years after infection. First, there are white or rosy patches of skin, called skin lesions. Then you lose feeling in the skin and the nerves thicken. Skin may also become thick. Nerves can be seriously damaged and hands and feet could become weak if the disease is not treated. If this is so, fingers and toes will bend inward. If the disease enters the eye, patients may become blind.
There are two types of leprosy, tuberculoid and lepromatous. Tuberculoid is much milder and not as serious than lepromatous. With tuberculoid, you only have a few lesions and very little M. leprae found in the tissue. With Lepromatous, patients have many lesions with billions of bacteria in each gram of tissue.
To treat leprosy, a mixture of three drugs, Dapsone, Rifampicin, and Clofazimine, will kill most of the bacteria.
Historians don't know where or when leprosy originated. The first accurate description of leprosy occurred earlier than A.D. 300, in the writings of the Indian Shushruta. Leprosy is said to have entered Europe during the 400's B.C. Historians believe it entered from troops of the Persian Xerxes when they invaded Greece.
Leprosy grew in large numbers in west Europe in the 1100's and 1200's. Then it went down when food improved and living conditions were healthier. Leprosy reached the Western Hemisphere when Europeans came.
Today, leprosy affects five to six million people throughout the world. It's found mostly in the tropics, like Africa, central and South America, India, and southeast Asia. Very few cases of it are found in the U.S. The cases that are in the U.S. are usually from immigrants who come from the countries where leprosy is common.
Shinnick, Thomas M., "Leprosy" WorldBook Online Reference Center http://www.worldbookonline.com/ar?/na/ar/co/ar320140.htm October 28,2003.
The Leprosy Mission Canada. http://www.tlmcanada.org/disease.html (January, 2004).
Image of sick globe and physician from "Microsoft Office Online" <http://office.microsoft.com/clipart/default.aspx?cag=1> Images free for non-profit and personal use. (October-February, 2003-2004).
Bernstein, Joanne E. and Paul Cohen. Dizzy Doctor Riddles. Niles, Illinois: Albert Whitman & Company. 1989.
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