Treatment

Cause

  • Most cases of leprosy result from infection with Mycobacterium leprae. The M. leprae bacillus was identified by a Norwegian doctor, G.A. Hansen, in 1873. In 2008, scientists discovered a second leprosy-causing bacillus, which they named Mycobacterium lepromatosis.
  • Leprosy is thought to be transmitted through the air via droplets from the nose and mouth during close and frequent contact with untreated individuals.
  • 95% of people have sufficient natural immunity and will not develop leprosy if exposed.
  • Not hereditary.
  • Not a curse nor a divine punishment.

Mycobacterium leprae as seen through a microscope. Image courtesy of Infectious Disease Surveillance Center (IDSC), Japan.

Symptoms

  • The first outward sign of leprosy is the appearance of numb, discolored patches on the skin.
  • Enlarged nerves can also be a sign of the disease.
  • If leprosy progresses unchecked, it leads to loss of sensation in the limbs, paralyzed muscles, ulcers, injuries, and secondary infections.

A New Atlas of Leprosy, a pictorial manual published by Sasakawa Health Foundation to assist frontline health workers and volunteers in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of leprosy.

Cure

  • Leprosy is treated with multidrug therapy (MDT) composed of an orally administered regimen of three drugs—rifampicin, dapsone, and clofazimine—taken for 6 to 12 months.
  • MDT is provided free of charge throughout the world via the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • After the first dose of MDT, a patient is no longer infectious.

Multidrug therapy is provided in calendar blister packs.

Prevention

  • There is no WHO-recommended vaccine for leprosy, but research is underway.
  • WHO guidelines recommend the use of single-dose rifampicin as a preventive treatment for adults and children (aged above 2 years) who are in regular contact with leprosy patients.
  • The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, used primarily against tuberculosis (TB), has been shown to reduce the risk of leprosy.

Diagnosis by a coordinator for the state health department’s leprosy program (Mato Grosso, Brazil, 2015.)