Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a disease is caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae, which causes an infection that affects a person’s skin destroys nerves. People diagnosed with leprosy can develop deformities, crippling of hands and feet, and blindness. Due to nerve endings being damaged, people can lose the ability to sense touch and pain, leading to injuries.
In 1873, Norwegian doctor Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen was the first to view the bacteria that causes leprosy under a microscope. His discovery dismissed the common myths of leprosy with some saying the disease was hereditary or caused from a curse in ancient times. In 1921, the U.S. Public Health Service established the Gillis W. Long Hansen’s Disease Center. At the center, research and testing would be done to find a cure for the disease while also treating patients infected with the disease. The creation of this center not only helped treat patients infected but also helped bring more awareness to the disease through research and discovery.
More than 4 million people have developed some form of disability from leprosy. Spotting on the skin can be the first sign of leprosy. Some spots may appear lighter or darker than their normal skin tone. The spots often appear on a person’s legs, arms, or back. A person infected with leprosy may also experience numbness in their fingers or toes, sometimes leading to palletization and the curling of the fingers if left untreated. Those suffering from leprosy may not be able to blink willingly, which can lead to blindness. If bacteria enter the lining of a person’s nose, they can also experience nose disfiguration.
In more than 100 countries, leprosy remains a medical issue for many. Countries such as Brazil, India, and Indonesia have the most recent cases of leprosy. Approximately 150 people in the United States are diagnosed with leprosy each year, compared to the 250,000 new cases each year around the world.
In the past, there was fear of the disease being highly contagious, leading to prejudice surrounding not only the disease but the people infected with the disease. Leprosy is easily treatable once it has been diagnosed in a person. Treatment includes the use of antibiotics that will kill the bacteria behind the disease. While the disease can be cured through treatment, nerve damage and physical disfiguration caused by the disease cannot be reversed. Disability of leprosy can be prevented through early diagnosis and treatment.
It is important that people continue to spread awareness of leprosy so that the stigmas regarding the disease can be put to rest. The person behind the disease is still a person who, like all of us, wants to be treated with kindness and respect. Through treatment, care, and research, we can hopefully put an end to this disease.
By: Ashley Pure