What Is Leprosy?

You might be most familiar with leprosy from the Bible … but did you know …

Leprosy is still active today, with nearly a quarter of a million people affected by it.

Nearly 60% of the cases in the world are in India, and in that culture, if you have leprosy, your village ostracizes you AND your entire family.  

The mission here at EAV is to see a spiritual, physical, and social transformation not only in the lives of the people who suffer from leprosy but also within their families!


What is leprosy?

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic, mildly infectious disease caused by slow-growing bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. Mycobacterium leprae, or M. leprae, multiplies very slowly, with an incubation period of about 3 to 5 years. However, symptoms can take as long as 20 years to appear. It can affect the nerves, eyes, skin, and mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract.

What are the symptoms?

Leprosy typically appears as patches of discolored skin with a loss of sensation at the affected area. When nerves in the arm are affected, small muscles become paralyzed, and this can cause the fingers to curl. Patients may also lose sensation in the feet. Unable to feel pain, the patient can suffer deformation of their feet due to continued injury and infection. If the facial nerves are affected, they may lose the blinking reflex of the eye, which can lead to dryness, ulceration, and blindness. Bacilli at the mucous lining of the nose can cause internal damage and scarring, which in time, causes the nose to collapse.

Does leprosy cause the victim to lose limbs and digits?

Not directly. M. leprae attacks nerve endings and destroys the body’s ability to feel pain and injury. Without feeling pain, people injure themselves on fire, thorns, rocks, and even hot coffee cups. Injuries become infected and result in tissue loss. Fingers, toes, and limbs become shortened and deformed as the tissue is absorbed into the body.

How is leprosy transmitted? Is it contagious?

Leprosy is not highly contagious; in fact, 95% of adults are immune to the disease. Current research shows M. leprae is transmitted primarily through coughing and sneezing and via the skin during close and frequent contact with untreated, infected persons.

How many people have leprosy?

Because the stigma associated with leprosy prevents many from seeking treatment, it is difficult to define precisely how many individuals are affected by this disease. Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that for the past few years, about 150,000 new cases of leprosy have been reported annually with 75,000 new cases reported in India in 2021. Again, because of the stigma associated with the disease, many of these individuals sought treatment once the disease had progressed. It is estimated that there are about 2 million people with disabilities resulting from leprosy.

Is there leprosy in the United States?

Yes, but it is rare. About 150 people are diagnosed with leprosy each year in the United States.

Can leprosy be cured?

YES! Leprosy can be cured with Multidrug Therapy. When treated in its early stages, deformation and disability can be avoided. Early diagnosis is very important!

Multidrug therapy (MDT) is a combination of medications used to cure leprosy. Multiple drugs are used to prevent resistance to a single medication. The treatment lasts 6-12 months, but soon after beginning MDT, the patient is no longer considered contagious. MDT is safe, effective, and easy to administer in the field.

How long has leprosy been around?

The first known written mention of leprosy is dated 600 B.C., but skeletal evidence of leprosy has been found dating back to 2000 B.C. Throughout history, those with leprosy have often been ostracized by their communities and families.

What does "eliminating leprosy as a public health problem" mean?

This means reducing the number of leprosy cases in the community to very low levels, specifically below 1 in 10,000.

Is it okay to use the term "leper"?

No. We ask that the term “leper” no longer be used. People affected by leprosy are just that–individuals who have leprosy. The disease does not define them. To this day, many are still outcasts from society and stigmatized because they have this curable disease.

Facts about EAV’s Impact


An average of 200 pairs of shoes are provided to those in need each month.


2,100 self-care packets given in a month to allow patients to care for their own wounds. 


170+ children attend our after-school program, Little Lights Program.


73 people currently reside in our Hospice & Rehab center.


7,257 kilos of rice (16,000 Ib.) are provided each month through our nutrition program.


3,500 (including children & family members of leprosy victims) total beneficiaries of the work of EAV.