What you didn’t know about leprosy

Leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease) is a chronic, progressive bacterial infection. It primarily affects the skin and the nerves of the hands and feet, as well as the eyes and the lining of the nose causing skin lesions and nerve damage.

Leprosy can affect people of all ages ranging from early childhood to very old age. Children are however more likely to develop leprosy.


  • Muscle weakness or paralysis (especially in the hands and feet)
  • Numbness in the hands, arms, feet, and legs
  • Loss of eyebrows or eyelashes
  • Painless swelling or lumps on the face or earlobes
  • Skin lesions

The skin lesions result in decreased sensation to touch, temperature, or pain. They don’t heal, even after several weeks. They’re lighter than your normal skin tone or they may be reddened from inflammation.


If left untreated, it could lead to;

  • Paralysis and crippling of hands and feet
  • Shortening of toes and fingers due to reabsorption
  • Chronic non-healing ulcers on the bottoms of the feet
  • Blindness
  • Loss of eyebrows
  • Nose disfigurement
  • Painful or tender nerves
  • Redness and pain around the affected area
  • Burning sensation in the skin

How is it spread?

It is not exactly clear how leprosy is spread from one person to another. Scientists currently think it may happen when a person with the disease coughs or sneezes, and a healthy person breathes in the droplets containing the bacteria.

However, a mother cannot pass it to her unborn baby during pregnancy and neither can it be spread through sexual contact.

Leprosy is not very contagious. Prolonged, close contact with someone with untreated leprosy over many months is needed to catch the disease.

Is there a treatment?

Contrary to widespread opinion, leprosy can be treated with a combination of antibiotics. Early treatment averts most disabilities.

It is important to note that, while the treatment can cure the disease and prevent it from getting worse, it does not reverse nerve damage or physical disfiguration that may have occurred before the diagnosis.


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