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Leprosy: know the causes and symptoms:

leprosy
Dr. Monika Bhanushali
Dr. Monika Bhanushali
September30/ 2016


Leprosy is also known as Hansen’s disease. It is an infectious disease caused by bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. The disease has affected many people all around the world. In previous years, leprosy was associated with social stigma because of which people have been out casted and shunned from the societies.

Even today, India has largest number of cases of Leprosy. Every year almost 1.2 to 1. 3 lac new cases of leprosy are reported from India.

Transmission:

The bacteria spread through droplets by repeated contact with an infected an untreated person. Children are more susceptible than adults. Contrary to the common belief, leprosy is not highly contagious. and it is completely curable. As these bacteria grow slowly, the symptoms may even appear 20 years after the infection.

Symptoms:

  1. Skin lesions: light coloured skin patches
  2. Thickened nerves: the nerves become thick as the bacteria reside inside the nerve tissue.
  3. Numbness: the area of the hypopigmented patches are in sensitive to touch.
  4. Muscle weakness: as the nerves are damaged, the muscles become weak
  5. Deformity of hands and feet: as the sensations in the hands and legs are lost, the chances of secondary infections can result in loss of tissue from the limbs resulting in ulcers and deformities. It can even result in wrist drop, feet drop and claw hand.
  6. Eye problems: as the sensations are lost in the eyes, there are chances of injury to the eye resulting even in loss of vision. Muscles supporting the eyes might get affected resulting in lagopthalmos.

Types of leprosy:

There are two broad categories in which leprosy is classified:

  1. Tuberculoid also known as paucibacillary: it has only one light coloured in-sensitive patch and nerve involvement
  2. Lepromatous also known as multibacillary: it has symmetric patches and nodules, nerve involvement
  3. Just nerve involvement without skin lesions can also be present

Diagnosis:

  1. Clinical diagnosis:

Presence of skin lesions with sensory loss indicates the symptoms of leprosy. Mainly the diagnosis is done by the clinical presentation of light coloured skin patches and definite loss of sensation.

  1. Skin smear:

A skin smear of the skin lesion show presence of the bacteria under the microscope.

Treatment:

Leprosy was feared to be not curable a few decades ago. But this is not at all the case anymore. Leprosy is 100% curable. There are medications available which are given in the multi drug therapy(MDT) form. The MDT is highly effective and the people are not infectious after a month of treatment. In India, the government programme NLEP (National Leprosy Eradication Programme) has extensive reach and free drugs available in government hospitals.

Complications:

Although, leprosy can be cured, the disease can cause some permanent skin damage, nerves and organs damage. The leprosy can cause following long lasting complications:

  1. Disfigurement of the face
  2. Wrist drop, foot drop, claw hand (commonest deformity)
  3. Infertility
  4. Damage to the nose cartilage
  5. Loss of sensations which result in easy injuries and burns causing tissue loss and deformities.

Dr. Monika Bhanushali
Dr. Monika Bhanushali

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