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Mycobacterium leprae
(Hansen's disease)

Leprosy primarily affects the skin and the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord, called the peripheral nerves. It may also strike the eyes and the thin tissue lining the inside of the nose.

The main symptom of leprosy is disfiguring skin sores, lumps, or bumps that do not go away after several weeks or months. The skin sores are pale-coloured.
Nerve damage can lead to loss of feeling in the arms and legs and Muscle weakness
It takes a very long time for symptoms to appear after coming into contact with the leprosy-causing bacteria. Some people do not develop symptoms until 20 or more years later. The time between contact with the bacteria and the appearance of symptoms is called the incubation period. Leprosy's long incubation period makes it very difficult for doctors to determine when and where a person with leprosy originally became ill.


It is the most important that the medical practitioner gains the confidence and collaboration of the patient, as treatment with the drug dapsone may last for many years or for life. If practicable the person with leprosy should be isolated from his family for a few weeks of treatment, after which he is non-infectious. In many communities this is not possible, and in some cases the prospect of isolation forces those affected to conceal the first signs of the condition.

Insensitive areas of skin need special care, contractions of muscles are minimized by physiotherapy and deformities are corrected by plastic surgery.

Preventive measures

There is no vaccination available against leprosy. Contacts should be examined every six months. Babies of mothers with lepromatous leprosy should be given dapsone for two years. With better living standards the disease tends to disappear.

The bacterium which causes leprosy is slow growing. Its activity may appear to be arrested spontaneously, or after three to five years of treatment, only to recur later. People with leprosy require regular biannual check-ups and treatment is often continued for years to prevent recurrence.

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