Health Tips- World Leprosy Day

The 26th of January was the World Leprosy Day. Many seem to have little or no knowledge about this particular disease; not knowing that either they or their next-door neighbour can be a victim.

Leprosy, also called Hansen’s disease, is a chronic yet curable infectious disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sore (lesions) and nerve damage; especially in the arms, legs, the skin around the body area, the peripheral nerves (nerves and ganglia outside the brain & spinal cord), mucosal surfaces of the upper respiratory tracts and the eyes.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae, an acid-fast, rod-shaped bacillus. In the ancient times, people afflicted by this disease were often isolated from their families and the whole community, they were stigmatized probably because of the contagious nature (mildly contagious, though not as bad as flu).

The scary thing about this disease is that it develops slowly. It can take up to six months, even up to twenty years, and it can also take a lifetime to cure.

The good news, however, is that as infectious as leprosy may be, it is curable if diagnosed at its early stage, thus preventing disability. At this point, it is pertinent to add that leprosy is not hereditary.

The primary source of transmission is human to human-when you come in close and repeated contact with the nose and mouth droplets from an untreated patient.

Since this disease can be cured if symptoms are known early enough, it is appropriate to be sensitized on its early symptoms and signs. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Loss of temperature sensation
  • Numbness
  • Reduced touch sensation
  • Pain in the joints
  • Nerve injury
  • Weight loss
  • Blisters and/or rashes
  • Painless ulcer
  • Eye damage (reduced blinking, dryness)
  • Facial disfigurement, etc

Leprosy is most common in adults, but then the outbreak of cases in children and adolescents in recent times with its continuous transmission calls for the apt intervention of the health system especially via campaigning for early detection and taking initiatives to cover populations at risk.

When diagnosis and/or treatment is/are either delayed or started late in the disease process, the following are complications that are bound to occur:

  • Sensory loss (in extremes; making victims numb in some body parts. One could be injured without the individual being aware that there is an injury).
  • Permanent nerve damage
  • Muscle weakness
  • Progressive disfigurement

Prevention is better than cure. Avoiding contacts with droplets from nasal and other secretions from untreated patients is a sure way to be safe from this disease.

In addition, animals such as Chimpanzees should not be handled in the wild, because they are sources of endemic infections. Since there is no commercially available vaccine to prevent leprosy yet, antibiotics are used in the treatment of the majority of cases of leprosy and it is usually administered for at least 6-12months or more to cure the disease.

I strongly believe we can have a leprosy free community, together, if we all decide to spread this information to as many as possible.

On my own, there’s a limit to what I can do; on your own, there’s a limit to what you can do too. But together, there’s surely no stopping us!

What will you do to create awareness about leprosy?


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