Leprosy

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Overview

Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae, a microorganism that has a predilection for the skin and nerves. Though nonfatal, leprosy is one of the most common causes of nontraumatic peripheral neuropathy worldwide. The disease has been known to man since time immemorial. DNA taken from the shrouded remains of a man discovered in a tomb next to the old city of Jerusalem shows him to be the earliest human proven to have suffered from leprosy. The remains were dated by radiocarbon methods to 1–50 A.D. The disease probably originated in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries as early as 2400 BCE. An apparent lack of knowledge about its treatment facilitated its spread throughout the world. Mycobacterium leprae, the causative agent of leprosy, was discovered by G. H. Armauer Hansen in Norway in 1873, making it the first bacterium to be identified as causing disease in humans . Over the past 20 years, the WHO implementation of MDT has rendered leprosy a less prevalent infection in 90% of its endemic countries with less than one case per 10,000 population. Though, it continues to be a public health problem in countries like Brazil, Congo, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal, and Tanzania 

Symptoms

Discolored patches of skin, usually flat, that may be numb and look faded (lighter than the skin around)

Growths (nodules) on the skin.

Thick, stiff or dry skin.

Painless ulcers on the soles of feet.

Painless swelling or lumps on the face or earlobes.

Loss of eyebrows or eyelashes.

Causes

Hansen's disease (also known as leprosy) is an infection caused by slow-growing bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. It can affect the nerves, skin, eyes, and lining of the nose (nasal mucosa). With early diagnosis and treatment, the disease can be cured.


Risk factors

The major risk factor for developing Hansen's disease is close contact with an infected person.

Poverty increases the risk of contracting leprosy.

Certain conditions that decrease immunity, such as malnourishment, specific illnesses, or chromosomal mutation may grow the chances of developing leprosy.

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Complications

Delayed diagnosis and treatment can lead to serious complications. These can include:

disfigurement

hair loss, particularly on the eyebrows and eyelashes

muscle weakness

permanent nerve damage in the arms and legs

inability to use hands and feet

chronic nasal congestion, nosebleeds, and collapse of the nasal septum

iritis, which is an inflammation of the iris of the eye

glaucoma, an eye disease that causes damage to the optic nerve

blindness

erectile dysfunction (ED)

infertility

kidney failure

Prevention

The best way to prevent the spread of leprosy is the early diagnosis and treatment of people who are infected. For household contacts, immediate and annual examinations are recommended for at least five years after last contact with a person who is infectious.