Don't Let Leprosy Cripple You!
Leprosy is a scary infectious disease. However, know that it is curable. The more we know about leprosy, the more cautious we can be.
Bacteria are a weird bunch. Good bacteria like lactobacilli in your gut help you digest your food. Then there are bad bacteria like mycobacterium leprae, which causes leprosy.
Leprosy as a disease was quite scary till the 1950s. Its causes were unknown, and a person afflicted with the disease suffered terrible disfigurement, among other things. As leprosy affected men and women alike primarily on their skin, it led to various measures to hide and fight the disease.
In India alone, it affected over 0.4% of our billion population. It's an ugly disease that leaves scars and irreparable damage. Let us understand more about leprosy.
What is leprosy?
Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. It affects the skin and mucous membranes that may lead to disfigurement and disability if left untreated.
What are its origins?
Leprosy is among the oldest diseases in recorded history. It is believed to have existed in human populations for thousands of years. The first written reference to Hansen’s disease is from around 600 B.C.
In the Middle Ages, leprosy was prevalent in Europe. Sufferers were often ostracised and forced to live in leper colonies. Though its infectiousness has reduced, today, it is most prevalent in developing countries, particularly in Asia and Africa.
The disease is particularly prevalent in rural areas and among marginalised communities, such as those living in poverty or with limited access to healthcare.
With more than half of all cases globally reported, India has the highest number of Leprosy cases.
What are the symptoms?
It depends on the type of leprosy and the stage of the disease. The main symptoms of Hansen’s disease are muscle weakness, numbness in the four limbs, and skin lesions. As the disease progresses, leprosy can lead to disfigurements, such as loss of fingers and toes, as well as blindness and other neurological complications.
How does it spread?
The disease spreads through sneezes or coughs of the affected person. Though the condition isn’t highly contagious, repeated contact with an untreated person for an extended period of time can lead to leprosy.
The mycobacterium multiplies very slowly, and the disease has an incubation period of five years. Its symptoms can take as long as 20 years to appear. It can spread through animals as well. Armadillos, mammals with leathery shells, have been known to carry the disease and transmit it to humans.
What are the treatment options?
Until the introduction of promin in the 1940s, there was no treatment for leprosy. Leprosy can be cured with a combination of antibiotics. The World Health Organization recommends a multidrug therapy regimen of three antibiotics:
Treatment lasts for six to twelve months, depending on the type of leprosy. It includes medications to relieve symptoms and physical therapy to help you regain the use of your hands and feet.
In addition, you may need to participate in follow-up care to monitor your condition and ensure that the disease does not return.
How do I protect myself?
To avoid contracting leprosy, it is crucial to practise good hygiene and avoid close contact with people with the disease. It’s essential to be aware of the early symptoms and seek medical attention if you suspect you have been exposed to the disease.
The antibiotics mentioned above will kill the bacteria that cause leprosy. While it can cure the disease and prevent it from worsening, it does not reverse nerve damage or physical disfiguration that may have occurred before the diagnosis. Hence it must be diagnosed as early as possible before any permanent nerve damage occurs.
What do I do if I contract the disease?
If you contract leprosy, it is vital to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Your doctor may refer you to a dermatologist or a specialist in leprosy, who will diagnose and treat the disease.
It is important to remember that leprosy is a treatable disease and that early diagnosis and treatment can prevent complications and disability. People with leprosy can lead healthy and fulfilling lives with proper care and support.
Leprosy is an ancient disease that still affects a significant number of people in the world, mainly in India. Practising good hygiene habits and avoiding close contact with people with the disease is essential. With proper care and support, people with leprosy can lead their lives with dignity and good health.
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