World Leprosy Day 2023: Signs and symptoms of leprosy, how it spreads, treatment
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that may lead to severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs and skin areas around your body. All you want to know about the signs and symptoms.
Leprosy also known Hansen's disease is a chronic infection that's caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae and affects skin, nerves, and other parts of the body. If not treated, a person with leprosy may suffer from permanent damage to skin, nerves or blindness, paralysis, disfigurement of the nose and chronic ulcers on the bottom of the feet. The symptoms of leprosy include discoloured patches of skin, numbness in the hands and feet, and loss of feeling in the limbs. Leprosy is treated with antibiotics and can be cured if diagnosed early. (Also read: World Leprosy Day 2023: Diet and nutrition tips for leprosy patients)
The disease has now become rare. While leprosy can affect people of all ages, it’s more common in people aged five to 15 or those over 30. According to studies, over 95% of people infected with Mycobacterium leprae do not actually develop leprosy because their bodies fight off the infection. The three types of leprosy are tuberculoid leprosy, lepromatous leprosy and borderline leprosy.
What is leprosy
"Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that may lead to severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs and skin areas around your body. The disease especially affects your skin and nerves outside your brain and spinal cord, called the peripheral nerves. It may also attack your eyes and the thin tissue lining the inside of your nose. People with leprosy may show up with disfiguring skin sores, lumps, or bumps as main symptoms. These symptoms may last for several weeks or months. The skin sores appear pale-coloured," says Dr. Santosh Kumar Agrawal, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Marengo QRG Hospital Faridabad.
Leprosy symptoms and complicatons
Dr Agarwal says if left untreated, leprosy can cause permanent damage to your skin, nerves, arms, legs, feet, and eyes.
Here are some complications:
- Patients may face the complications of leprosy like blindness or glaucoma, iritis, hair loss, infertility, disfiguration of the face (such as permanent swelling, bumps, and lumps)
- Erectile dysfunction and infertility in men
- Kidney failure
- Muscle weakness leading to claw-like hands or a not being able to flex your feet
- Permanent damage to the inside of your nose, which may lead to nose bleeding and a chronic stuffy nose
- Permanent damage to the nerves outside your brain and spinal cord, including those in the arms, legs, and feet may cause dangerous loss of feeling in the arms and legs.
- If you have leprosy-related nerve damage, you may not feel pain even after getting cuts, burns, or other injuries on your hands, legs, or feet.
How leprosy spreads
Symptoms usually take about 3 to 5 years to develop after getting in touch with the bacteria that causes leprosy. Some people might not have symptoms until 20 years later. The time between contact with the bacteria and the appearance of symptoms is known as the incubation period.
"Leprosy occurs due to a slow-growing type of bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. The disease is also called Hansen's disease. It isn’t clear exactly how leprosy is spread. When a person suffering from leprosy coughs or sneezes, he/she may spread droplets that another person inhales. Disease transmits due to close physical contact with an infected person. It isn’t spread by casual contact with an infected person such as shaking hands, hugging, or sitting next to them on a bus or at a table during a meal. Pregnant mothers with leprosy can’t transfer to their unborn babies. The disease is not transmitted by sexual contact either. To diagnose the disease, the patient is advised to undergo skin biopsy," says Dr Agarwal.
- Treatment is followed depending upon the state of disease. Patients are prescribed antibiotics to treat the infection. Patients are recommended long-term treatment, usually for 6 months to a year.
- If patients suffer from severe leprosy, they might need to take antibiotics longer. Antibiotics can’t cure the nerve damage that comes with leprosy.
- Multidrug therapy (MDT) is considered as a common treatment for leprosy that combines antibiotics.
- To manage nerve pain and damage related to leprosy, patients may also take anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Sometimes patients may be advised thalidomide, a potent medication that suppresses your immune system. It may help treat leprosy skin nodules. Thalidomide may cause severe, life-threatening birth defects therefore it is not recommended for pregnant or plan to become pregnant.