What Is Leprosy?

Causes, Symptoms and Cure for Leprosy

Know all about leprosy and its cure

Leprosy is a disease that is caused by bacillus bacteria, which is related to the same bacillus that causes tuberculosis. Leprosy has been known as a serious disease since ancient times. In the Bible, the disease has been mentioned many times in both the Old and New Testaments.

Leprosy is a contagious infectious disease and is noticeable in its later stages as the flesh begins to rot. People with leprosy in Biblical times were afraid and forced in special isolated colonies to prevent entity villages and cities from being infected with the disease.

The leprosy causing bacteria, bacillus mycobacterium leprae, infects the skin and attacks both the skin and peripheral nerves. The disease itself does not cause the flesh to rot, however, as the disease progresses and an infected person starts having the disfiguring skin sores and damage to the peripheral nerves, the victim can lose feeling in hands and feet.

When this happens, a person can injure that limb and not feel any pain, so does not notice the injury. With the injury not being noticed, it becomes infected and gangrene sets in-presence the flesh begins to rot.

Symptoms of leprosy

1. A red spot that can be either darker or lighter than the victim's skin is the first and earliest sign of leprosy. The leprosy causing bacteria can incubate in the body for quite some time before this symptom appears. The usual incubation period can range from three to five years.

2. Lesions will appear on various part of the body that will lose sensation to touch, pain or heat. These lesions will also be lighter in color than the normal color of the skin.

3. Lesions that do not heal for weeks or even months.

4. Numbness in arms, hands, legs or feet, as the leprosy bacillus attack the peripheral nerves in the limbs.

5. Muscle weakness can also be a symptom of leprosy.

The social effects of leprosy were harsher in the past than they are now. In the Middle Ages and before, for example, leprosy was a feared disease and people who were infected with leprosy were forcibly removed from society and placed in special leper colonies where they were left to die.

In the times of Christ, lepers were also isolated from society and if lepers were traveling, they had to wear a bell to warn others to stay away.

In the Middle Ages, there was more understanding of diseases in general and some treatments for leprosy were attempted, but in general, society was still very afraid of the disease.

Many hospitals and doctors who relied on charity and benefits from their communities returned to treat lepers and lepers were often forced out of their communities. The disease divided couples, families, and destroyed marriages. In fact, in Medieval Western Europe, the Roman Catholic Church allowed for a canonical divorce for those whose spouse was infected with leprosy.

One Medieval treatment for leprosy was theriac, which was a concoction of viper's flesh and other ingredients and was widely believed to cure leprosy. Mercury was also believed to be used to cure not just leprosy, but other diseases as well.

The treatments today, however, are much more effective. Like all bacterial infections, leprosy can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Most antibiotics, however, are not strong enough to treat the bacillus mycobacterium leprae, because this bacterium, like its cousin that causes tuberculosis, can be resistant to most antibiotics.

For this reason, stronger antimicrobial medications are often used to treat leprosy. Some of the antimicrobial treatments used to treat leprosy include:

1. Sulfones in the form of an oral dapsone is usually the first treatment used to treat the disease. This drug, however, can have some severe side-affects. Some of these side-affects include hepatitis, exfoliated dermatitis and hypersensitivity reactions. Should this happen, sulfone treatment should stop immediately.

2. Rifampin with a combination of clofazimine and ethionamide can be an alternative treatment for leprosy if sulfone treatment does not work.

3. Surgical correction or amputation may be required to treat some of the more severe symptoms of leprosy such as claw hand or wrist or foot drop. In these cases, the affected limbs could already be necrotic and may even already have gangrene set in and would need to be removed.

Leprosy is a severe disease and your body could react to dead bacteria during the course of the above mentioned treatments.

How is leprosy transmitted?

Leprosy is an infectious disease which is contagious, but it is not as highly contagious as some other airborne infections such as the common cold or the flu. There are several ways leprosy is transmitted, which are listed below.

1. Household contact is the most common transmission of the disease. If someone in your family has leprosy, you could have gotten it from that person by sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, as well as sexual contact and kissing.

2. Inhaling the bacteria by sitting by someone who is infected with leprosy is another way the disease can be transmitted.

3. Insect bites from insects who carry the bacillus mycobacterium leprae is another possible way that you can contract leprosy.

4. Nasal mucous membranes can also carry the bacteria that cause leprosy. In fact, the bacillus mycobacterium leprae can live in nasal fluids up to 36 hours.

Theoretically, leprosy usually infects a person once, but older people with weaker immune systems can be reinfected with leprosy.

Currently, the Infectious Disease Research Center together with the American Leprosy Missions has an aggressive campaign to curtail or even eradicate leprosy. Currently, the American Leprosy Missions has their "Deliver the Cure" program, which is a charitable program to help children who are suffering from leprosy.

Leprosy is rare in the United States, however, if you plan to travel to Africa, Latin America, or some parts of Asia, you may come across areas where leprosy is prevalent and there you might want to take precautions. When traveling to these areas, you should check with the US State Department or other organizations to find out what diseases can pose a problem and what vaccinations you might need to travel to these countries.