What is Leprosy?

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by a bacterial infection named Mycobacterium leprae. The disease causes severe skin sores, damage to the peripheral nerves, respiratory tract, nasal passages and the eyes.

Leprosy can occur from infancy to old age. Leprosy has affected humanity for thousands of years and has been associated with social stigma, often resulting in patients not reporting and seeking treatment as they fear being out casted.

Leprosy is curable and early treatment can prevent disabilities.

How is Leprosy spread?

Leprosy is contagious and is spread between people, although extensive contact is necessary. It is spread through close and repeated contact with the nose and mouth fluids or a cough from someone with untreated leprosy.

  • You cannot get Leprosy by shaking hands or hugging someone with leprosy.
  • Leprosy does not spread during pregnancy or through sexual contact.
  • Leprosy occurs more commonly among people living in poverty.
  • Children are more likely to get leprosy than adults.
  • People with leprosy can live with their families and go to school and work.

Signs and symptoms


  • Multiple or single pale/pink skin lesions that may be numb.
  • Growths on the skin.
  • Thick or dry skin.
  • Painless ulcers on the soles of feet.
  • Painless swelling or lumps on the face or earlobes.
  • Loss of eyebrows or eyelashes.
  • Muscle weakness and loss of feeling in arms and legs.  

Nerve damage:

  • Numbness of affected areas of the skin.
  • Enlarged nerves
  • Eye problems that may lead to blindness (when facial nerves are affected)

Mucous membranes:

  • A stuffy nose
  • Nosebleeds


Leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy. Treatment depends on the type of leprosy that you have. Antibiotics are used to treat the infection. Treatment can last from six months to a year. Anti-inflammatory drugs are used to control nerve damage and pain

Leprosy Complications

If not treated, leprosy can cause permanent damage and may lead to disability in some cases

Complications of leprosy can include:

  • Blindness or glaucoma
  • Disfiguration of the face
  • Erectile dysfunction and infertility in men
  • Kidney failure
  • Permanent damage to the inside of the nose, which can lead to nosebleeds and a chronic, stuffy nose
  • Permanent damage to the nerves.
  • 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

This is a very seldom seen disease in modern times, but it is important to be aware of its existence and the fact it is treatable.

Author: Sloan-Reese Nickols




Web MD