Leprosy embodies inaccurate customs and beliefs throughout history, banished people who suffered from the disease, and complex stigmatization and discrimination. Even though leprosy exists to this day things are much different. It may still invoke up images of lost limbs and isolated colonies, but the disease is actually much less extreme and completely treatable today.
In spite of that, leprosy affects many people around the world. Why do people in some countries continue to suffer from this curable disease? Is it due to a lack of basic medical care? Or is it because of the continued stigma surrounding the illness? So many questions! Here are 40 interesting facts about Leprosy that’ll hopefully provide the answers…
World Leprosy Day is observed on the last Sunday of January each year.
Established in 1954 by French philanthropist Raoul Follereau, World Leprosy Day aims to raise awareness about leprosy and teach people about this ancient disease and that it is easily curable today.
Leprosy is also known as Hansen’s disease, after the scientist who discovered Mycobacterium leprae in 1873.
Historical leprosy is not the same as modern leprosy. The “leprosy” found in historical and religious texts described a variety of skin conditions from rashes and patchy skin to swelling.
Although leprosy was managed differently in the past, the first breakthrough occurred in the 1940s with the development of the medicine dapsone.
The duration of treatment lasted many years, often a lifetime, making compliance difficult.
In the 1960s, M . leprae started to develop resistance to dapsone, the only known anti-leprosy medicine at that time.
In the early 1960s, rifampicin and clofazimine were discovered and subsequently added to the treatment regimen, which was later labelled as multidrug therapy (MDT).
The currently recommended MDT regimen consists of medicines: dapsone, rifampicin, and clofazimine.
This treatment lasts for six months for paucibacillary and 12 months for multi-bacillary cases. MDT kills the pathogen and cures the patient.
Since 1995 WHO has provided MDT free of cost. Free MDT was initially funded by The Nippon Foundation, and since 2000 it is donated through an agreement with Novartis.
More than 16 million leprosy patients have been treated with MDT over the past 20 years.
In 2016 WHO launched its “Global Leprosy Strategy 2016–2020: Accelerating towards a leprosy-free world” to reinvigorate efforts for leprosy control. The strategy focuses on children as well as avoiding disabilities.
Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by a bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae.
Leprae multiplies slowly and the incubation period of the disease, on average, is 5 years.
The earliest sign of leprosy is commonly a spot on the skin that may be slightly redder, darker, or lighter than the person’s normal skin.
Symptoms may occur within 1 year but can also take as long as 20 years or even more to occur.
The main symptom of leprosy is disfiguring skin sores, lumps, or bumps that don’t go away after several weeks or months. The skin sores are pale-colored.
The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and the eyes.
Leprosy is likely transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contact with untreated cases.
Untreated, leprosy can cause progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes.
Although leprosy is often thought of as an ancient disease, people can still become infected with the bacteria that causes the disease.
The elimination of leprosy as a public health problem (defined as a registered prevalence of less than 1 case per 10 000 population) was achieved globally in 2000.
Close to 19,000 children were diagnosed with Hansen’s disease in 2016, more than 50 a day.
In 2016, the countries with the highest number of new diagnoses were India, Brazil, and Indonesia, followed by some of the nations in Africa.
Two-thirds of all new cases of Hansen’s disease are diagnosed in India, which remains home to a third of the world’s poor, a group disproportionately affected by the disease.
There were 208 619 new leprosy cases registered globally in 2018, according to official figures from 159 countries from the 6 WHO Regions.
Based on 184 212 cases at the end of 2018, the prevalence rate corresponds to 0.2/10 000.
An estimated 2 to 3 million people are living with Hansen’s disease-related disabilities globally.
Leprosy is hard to catch, and in fact, 95% of adults cannot catch it because their immune system can fight off the bacteria that causes the disease.
People with leprosy who are being treated with antibiotics can live a normal life among their family and friends and can continue to attend work or school.
You cannot get leprosy through casual contact such as shaking hands, sitting next to, or talking to someone who has the disease.
You can catch it only if you come into close and repeated contact with nose and mouth droplets from someone with untreated leprosy.
Children are more likely to get leprosy than adults.
Pregnant mothers with leprosy can’t pass it to their unborn babies. It’s not transmitted by sexual contact either.
The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) can carry the bacteria that cause leprosy and pass the bacteria along to humans.
Researchers think that humans first transmitted leprosy to armadillos, sometime in the past 500 years, and a study from 2011 confirmed that armadillos can pass it back to humans.
Animal lovers fear not! Armadillos are the only other animal besides humans known to get leprosy.
Over 15 million people have been cured since treatments became available in the 1980s, but leprosy is still responsible for disfiguring or disabling more than 2 million people.
Do you have any interesting or fun facts about leprosy that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!