Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease): Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease (HD), is a chronic infection by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae or Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Initially, it takes 5 to 20 years for symptoms to appear after coming in contact with leprosy-causing bacteria. Symptoms include granulomas of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes which result in a lack of ability to feel pain.

Leprosy is thought to occur through a cough or contact with fluid from the nose of an infected person and is not highly contagious. Hansen’s Disease is confirmed by finding acid-fast bacilli in a biopsy of the skin or by detecting the DNA using polymerase chain reaction.

Leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy. Early treatment can help avoid disability. These treatments are provided free of charge by WHO. Children are more likely to be infected by leprosy causing bacteria than elder people. In 2012, the number of chronic cases of leprosy was 189,000, down from some 5.2 million in the 1980s, recorded globally. In present, about 180,000 people worldwide are infected with Hansen’s Disease, according to the World Health Organization, most of them in Africa and Asia.

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How Does Leprosy Affect Your Body?

The bacteria causing leprosy damages the nerves, causing an infection on the skin. Rashes and sores can develop on various areas of the body and cause numbness and weakness in hands and feet. Without treatment, the infection can cause muscle weakness and lead to physical deformities and in severe cases, Hansen’s Disease can lead to other conditions including vision problems and kidney damage.

What Are The Causes of Leprosy?

  • leprae and M.lepromatosis bacteria are the causative agents of leprosy.
  • A person can get this bacteria from inhaling droplets of an infected person.

What Are The Risk Factors of Leprosy?

  • Contact of people with leprosy is five to eight times more likely to develop leprosy than members of the general population.
  • Conditions that reduce immune function like malnutrition, other illnesses, or host genetic differences, may increase the risk of developing Hansen’s Disease.
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What Are The Symptoms of Leprosy?

Symptoms of leprosy after observed between 5 to 20 years after being infected by the bacteria. These include:

  • Development of pale or pinkish patches of skin that may be insensitive to temperature or pain is the first noticeable sign.
  • Nerve problems like numbness or tenderness in the hands or feet. Nerve damage is irreversible even with treatment.
  • Tissue loss leading fingers and toes to become shortened and deformed, as cartilage is absorbed into the body.

How is Leprosy Diagnosed?

According to WHO, diagnosis is based on the signs, including skin lesion consistent with leprosy and with definite sensory loss and positive skin smears.

The sensory loss at the skin lesion is important because this sign can help differentiate it from other causes of skin lesions such as tinea versicolor. Thickened nerves are associated with leprosy and can be accompanied by loss of sensation or muscle weakness but without the characteristic skin lesion and sensory loss, muscle weakness is not considered a reliable sign of Hansen’s Disease.

Tests like CBC (complete blood count), creatinine test, LFT (liver function test), or a nerve biopsy are conducted to see whether other body organs have been impacted.

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How To Prevent And Control Leprosy?

  • Prevent coming in contact with droplets from nasal and other secretions from patients with untreated infection.
  • Medications (antibiotics) can decrease the risk of those living with people with leprosy from acquiring the disease.
  • The world health organization (WHO) recommends that people who live in the same household be examined for leprosy and be treated only if symptoms are present.
  • BCG vaccine may be protective against Hansen’s Disease in addition to its target of tuberculosis.

Treatment of Leprosy – Allopathic Treatment

Anti-leprosy medication –

  • For tuberculoid cases, treatment with daily Dapsone and monthly Rifampicin for six months are recommended.
  • For lepromatous cases, treatment with daily Dapsone and Clofazimine along with monthly Rifampicin for 12 months is recommended.
  • Multidrug therapy (MDT) – Multidrug are used because treatment with just a single anti-leprosy drug can lead to a person becoming resistant to that drug. This therapy remains highly effective, and people are no longer infectious after the first monthly dose.
  • Topical ketanserin – This has a better effect on ulcer healing.
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Treatment of Leprosy – Homeopathic Treatment

  • Sulphur – Sulphur is effective if the patient has a tendency to suffer from eruptions, curvature of the spine, wrinkled and flabby skin and has a voracious appetite triggered by diseased glands.
  • Graphites – Prescribed for swollen lymph glands, mesenteric glands, and prominent skin sores.
  • Calcarea Carbonica and Silicea – This combination helps in treating a patient who suffers from a swollen abdomen and has open fontanelles.
  • Rhus Toxicodendron – Prescribed for red skin that is covered with vesicles and suffers from intense itchiness.
  • Cantharis – This is used for large blisters on the skin accompanied by intense burning.
  • Croton Tiglium – This is used to treat small blisters that itch terribly and form pustules that dry into yellowish scabs.

Leprosy – Lifestyle Tips

  • Leprosy can change the way you live; some may find it difficult mentally and emotionally for which one should take therapy classes.
  • Physiotherapy sessions can help in movement of hands and legs.
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet.

What Are The Recommended Exercises For a Person With Leprosy?

Physical therapy can help in improving muscle strength and regain a sense of motion.

Leprosy & Pregnancy – Things to Know

  • Leprosy can be worse during pregnancy, and without treatment, it can permanently damage the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes.
  • The first appearance of leprosy and relapse in cured patients is likely to occur particularly in the third trimester of pregnancy.
  • Leprosy reactions caused by variation in cell-mediated and humoral immunity are triggered off by pregnancy and continue long into lactation.
  • About 20% of children born to mothers with Hansen’s Disease may develop leprosy by puberty while early leprosy in young children is self-healing.

Common Complications Related to Leprosy

  • Blindness or glaucoma
  • Disfiguration of the face
  • Erectile dysfunction and infertility in men
  • Kidney failure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Permanent damage to the inside of the nose
  • Permanent damage to the nerves


Q. Does leprosy still exist?

A. Yes; approximately 200,000 new people are diagnosed with leprosy every year across the world.

Q. Does claw hand caused by leprosy can it be treated?

A. Yes, it can be treated by reconstructive surgery that corrects the deformities in the hands and feet.

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