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Leprosy: A treatable infection!

Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases known to have raised public health concerns in India. India is considered to have the origin of the disease dating back to 2000 BC. It is thought to have spread through trade and war. In ancient India, individuals suffering from leprosy were alienated because the disease was chronic, contagious, resulted in disfigurement, and had no cure at the time.

Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. Initially, the infection does not show any symptom and may remain that way for a prolonged period. Although it does not spread through touch, leprosy is contagious and can be transmitted through respiratory droplets from the nose and mouth. Generally, leprosy spreads through repeated physical contact with an untreated individual.

Leprosy spreads just like influenza or common cold, but it is much less contagious considering the fact that almost 95% of people have some natural resistance against the disease. No vaccine was available for Leprosy till now. Presently the disease is reported to be curable with Multi-Drug Therapy, which is a combination of three different antibacterial drugs.

Early diagnosis of the disease helps in rapid treatment. Thus, it is very important to recognize the symptoms at an early stage. The symptoms may not be present or be understated in the initial stage, but an early detection is possible if one pays proper attention to how his/her body functions.

Early signs of leprosy include spots on the skin that may be slightly red, darker or lighter than our normal skin. The areas with the spots may also lose hair and become numb. Often these spots appear on the arms, legs or back. Sometimes the only sign may be numbness in a finger or toe. Other advanced symptoms of the disease include:-

  • Nodule like lumps on the skin.
  • An affected nose lining that can cause crusting, or difficulty in breathing.
  • Inflammation or bleeding of the eye.
  • Faded/ discoloured skin lesions and sores.
  • Thick, stiff or dry skin.
  • Loss of sensation in arms and legs.

One of the many reasons for the swell in the percentage of Leprosy cases in India is that people generally shun away discussing it. People affected by leprosy don’t come out in the open, which also bar their scope for treatment. The lack of awareness about the disease causes this conundrum in the rate of treated cases.

In the present day, India runs the largest Leprosy eradication program and the disease is completely curable. This treatment is completely free to all patients across the world through the World Health Organization.

Consequently, people should gain more awareness about this disease and treat it with a more sensible approach. We all should grow out of the stigma and myths associated with leprosy. This would be an initiative towards a Leprosy free nation.