What Is Leprosy?

Leprosy is generally a chronic health condition, which is caused by a type of bacteria known as Mycobacterium leprae. It affects the skin and peripheral nerves of the arms, legs, and other body parts. If it is left untreated, it becomes highly contagious and can be transmitted through the release of droplets from the nose and mouth while breathing, sneezing, or coughing.

Being in proximity to an individual who has this disease potentiates the risk of spreading. One must get timely treatment, otherwise, the disease will progress, leading to severe disfigurement and permanent disabilities.

The good news is that it is a curable condition. Its progression can be prevented with the help of antibiotics treatment. With timely treatment, the risk of complications and transmission of the disease can also be prevented.

Symptoms of leprosy

The disease mostly affects the skin and peripheral nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord. The individual who contracted this disease develops some main symptoms, such as skin sores,skin ulcers, lumps, and stubborn bumps that do not go away and persist for several weeks or months. The skin turns dry, stiff, and thick. The person may also get lumps or swelling on their face. The symptoms of nerve damage include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness and loss of feeling or sensation in the affected area
  • Vision problems

The person might develop the symptoms right away. It might take years for the disease to fully manifest. Some might experience the symptoms between 3 to 5 years or so, while others might remain asymptomatic for 20 years or so when the symptoms start showing. Since the duration of development of the disease is too long, it can be difficult to diagnose. One might live with the condition for years totally unaware.

Causes of leprosy

The bacteria that is responsible for causing the disease is Mycobacterium leprae. It is not highly contagious. However, it gets easily spread when the person has not taken the treatment in time and the disease has already caused significant damage.

It is an airborne disease. The bacteria spread when an infected individual releases tiny droplets in the air, which usually happens through breathing, sneezing, or coughing. The reason for the transmission of bacterium is contact with the nasal fluids of the individual affected by Mycobacterium leprae. So, one must keep a safe distance from a leprosy patient.

Diagnosis of leprosy

The healthcare provider will conduct the patient’s physical examination and collect some samples from the area of the skin that is affected. These samples will be sent to the laboratory for further examination to identify the cause. This process of collection of samples is known as skin biopsy. In addition to that, the healthcare provider will also perform several other tests on the patient’s skin to confirm the disease.

Treatment of leprosy

After performing the diagnostic tests, the healthcare provider will confirm the type of leprosy that the person has caught. They will prescribe some antibiotic medications to prevent the disease progression. They may prescribe the patient a combination of several different antibiotics, which is termed Multidrug therapy (MDT).

The drugs will be prescribed according to the severity of the disease. Those with mild to moderate degrees of leprosy will need fewer medications and duration of treatment, while those having severe forms of leprosy will be put on multiple antibiotic treatment and their treatment duration will be long.

The treatment for skin damage and nerve damage will be different. Skin damage will be treated with antibiotics while nerve damage requires another kind of treatment since antibiotics cannot treat nerve damage.


When treatment is not taken early, then the progression of the disease can give rise to complications such as:

  • Hair loss
  • Blindness
  • Infertility
  • Iritis
  • Disfiguration of the face and other body parts
  • Muscle weakness
  • Erectile dysfunction in men
  • Kidney failure
  • Severe nosebleeds due to damage to the nose
  • Severe and permanent nerve damage to legs, arms, and feet

Leprosy prevention

You need to maintain a safe distance from an individual affected by leprosy. Avoid physical proximity with them. If any friend of yours or any relative has caught the disease, then you must see your doctor immediately. The possibility of disease transfer is quite high in such cases. Early detection and timely treatment will eliminate your risk of developing the disease and related complications.


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