Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease cause by two types of rod shape bacteria: Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. It affects the peripheral nerves, skin, testes, and moist part of the body like the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes. The skin affected by leprosy can form the infamous disfiguring lesions among lepers that cause other people to shun them. Although leprosy is contagious, patients who received at least two weeks treatment are no longer considered contagious. And 95 percent of people have a natural immunity against leprosy.
Leprosy is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium leprae infecting the skin, mucus membrane of the upper respiratory tract, eyes, testes, and the peripheral nerves. The lethal form of leprosy called diffused lepromatous leprosy is caused by Mycobacterium lepromatosis infection.
Prolong exposure to leprosy victims who have not received any forms of treatment is the only known mode of transmission in leprosy. Inhaling the aerosolized nose and mouth secretions of leprosy patients is said to spread the bacteria from person to person. The average incubation period of leprosy is very long: victims may show signs of leprosy 3 to 5 years after infection.
The classic symptom of leprosy is skin lesions that do not heal for several weeks to months. The area around the lesion may numb and become insensitive to heat or pain. The sensation in the hands, arms, legs, and feet in leprosy patients is lessen or it can totally disappear. Patients also manifest thickening of the skin and inflammation of the peripheral nerves causing muscle weakness and overall loss of sensation. In severe cases, the lesions and peripheral nerve inflammation on the fingers and toes cause them to be easily severed. Simple movement of the fingers and toes can cause them to be severed from the body.
Leprosy is highly curable with multidrug therapy. The World Health Organization recommends several months treatment using the combination of dapsone, rifampicin, and clofazimine. Along with multidrug therapy, supportive treatment is also recommended like physical restraint from blunt forces that could inflect further damage to the areas affected. Wearing of specialized gloves and footwear is recommended to victims whose fingers and toes are severely affected.
In 1991, the World Health Organization passed a resolution vowing to eradicate leprosy by the year 2000. Since then, leprosy treatment is made free across the world until year 2000 through the help of the Nippon Foundation. The Novartis Foundation took over the provision of free leprosy treatment after that.
To prevent leprosy proliferation, community education regarding the infection is very crucial. The community people must be educated about the importance of reporting leprosy cases in their area to receive proper treatment and stop the spread of the disease. And since there is no vaccine against leprosy, people must exercise restraint from associating with leprosy victims. Although there is no need to shun them, but their treatment and temporary isolation must be handled by trained health care professionals only. After receiving treatment for several weeks, they are no longer considered infectious so that they can face people like normal again.
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