What causes leprosy
Leprosy is a chronic disease cause by a bacillus, mycobacterium leprae. Mycobacterium leprae multiplies very slowly. The incubation period is about three to five years but signs and symptoms can take as long as 20 years to appear.

Does Leprosy spread easily?
Leprosy is not highly infectious. It is transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth or via the skin during close and frequent contact with untreated, infected persons.

What are the symptoms?
Leprosy mainly affects the skin and nerves and clinically appears in most of the cases as patches with discoloration and numbness of the affected area. If untreated, there can be progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. Paucibacillary (PB) leprosy results in one to five numb skin patches. Multibacillary (MB) leprosy results in more than five numb skin patches.

How do you catch leprosy?
M. leprae is transmitted primarily through coughing and sneezing. Bacilli are discharged, perhaps on droplets or dust particles that others inhale.Is leprosy very contagious?
No, approximately 95% of us have a natural immunity to leprosy.

Is there leprosy in the United States?Approximately 5,000 people in the U.S. are cured but suffer from the affects of leprosy and continue to receive care through outpatient clinics and private physicians. Approximately 150 people are diagnosed with leprosy each year in the U.S.

How many people have leprosy?
A million people are receiving or need multi-drug therapy. Another 2-4 million people suffer disabilities from leprosy and require ongoing care. 200,000 -300,000 cases are detected each year.

What are the early signs of leprosy?
Early signs include discolored or light patches on the skin with loss of feeling. When nerve trunks in the arm are affected, part of the hand becomes numb and small muscles become paralyzed, leading to curling of the fingers and thumb. When leprosy attacks nerves in the legs, it interrupts communication of sensation in the feet. The feet can become subject to erosion through untended wounds and infection. If the facial nerve isaffected, a person loses the blinking reflex of the eye, which can eventually lead to dryness, ulceration, and blindness. Bacilli entering the mucous lining of the nose can lead to internal damage and scarring which in time causes the nose to collapse. Untreated, leprosy can cause deformity, crippling, and blindness.

Why is leprosy also called Hansen’s disease?
Norwegian doctor Armauer Hansen was the first to view the bacillus under a microscope in 1873.

Can leprosy cause limbs to fall off?
No. The bacillus attacks nerve endings and destroys the body’s ability to feel pain and injury. Without feeling pain, people injure themselves on fire, thorns, rocks, even hot coffee cups. Injuries become infected and result in tissue loss. Fingers and toes become shortened and deformed as the cartilage is absorbed into the body.

How long has leprosy been around?
Leprosy is as old as the ancient civilizations of China, Egypt and India. The first known written mention of leprosy is dated 600 BC. Throughout history, leprosy sufferers have often been ostracized by their communities and families.

Can leprosy be cured?
Leprosy is a curable disease and when and when treated in the early stages, disability can be avoided. With minimal training, leprosy can be easily diagnosed on clinical signs alone.

What is multidrug therapy?
Multidrug therapy (MDT) consists of three drugs; dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine. This drug combination kills the pathogen and cures the patient. MDT is safe, effective and easy to administer in the field.

What does “eliminating leprosy as a public health problem” mean?
This means reducing the proportion of leprosy patients in the community to very low levels, specifically below one case per 10,000 population.