leprosy

Leprosy is an infectious disease characterized by disfiguring skin lesions, peripheral nerve damage, and progressive debilitation.

Leprosy is common in many countries in the world, and in temperate, tropical, and subtropical climates. Approximately 100 cases per year are diagnosed in the U.S. Most cases are limited to the South, California, Hawaii, and U.S. island possessions.

Leprosy is also called Hansen’s disease.

Causes

Leprosy is caused by the organism Mycobacteriumleprae.

Can you get leprosy from armadillos?

Armadillos are the only other animals besides humans to host the leprosy bacillus. The risk of transmission from armadillo to humans is low. Only the nine-banded armadillo is known to carry the disease. And, most people in the U.S. who develop leprosy contract it from other people while traveling outside the country.

Signs

The most common signs of leprosy are:

  • skin lesions that have decreased sensation to touch, heat, or pain and are are lighter than your normal skin color
  • skin lesions that do not heal after several weeks to months
  • numbness or absent sensation in the hands and arms, or feet and legs
  • muscle weakness

How is leprosy transmitted?

Leprosy is a difficult disease to transmit and has a long incubation period. Children are more susceptible than adults to contracting the disease.

Types of leprosy

There are two main types of leprosy: tuberculoid and lepromatous. Both tyes of leprosy produce lesions on the skin, but the lepromatous form is most severe, producing large disfiguring nodules.

Can leprosy be treated?

Yes. Treatments are aimed to eliminate the microorganism that causes leprosy and to reduce the symptoms. Common treatments include:

  • Dapsone
  • Rifampin
  • Clofazimine
  • Ethionamide
  • Aspirin
  • Prednisone
  • Thalidomide

Complications of leprosy

Leprosy can eventually cause cosmetic disfigurement, nerve damage in the extremities, sensory loss in the skin and muscle weakness. People with long-term leprosy may lose the use of their hands or feet due to repeated injury resulting from lack of sensation.