Leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium leprae. It can infect nerves, skin, eyes, and mucosal membranes. It was once considered a highly contagious disease but in reality, prolonged contact with the affected person for over many years is needed for the catching up of the disease. It has aerosol transmission. Over 2 million people suffer from the disease worldwide.
Ninety-five per cent of the people are naturally immunized against the disease. It affects those with a weakened immune system.
Signs and Symptoms associated with the disease
-Nodule formation on the skin.-Thick and dry skin-Painless ulcers on the soles of the feet or lumps on the face.-Discolored patches of skin-Eyebrows or eyelashes loss.-Numbness in the affected areas of the skin.-Muscle weakness-If facial nerves are affected then it leads to eye problems and may even lead to blindness.-Nose bleeding-Stuffy nose.
Symptoms of advanced leprosy
-Crippled hands or feet-Shortening of toes and fingers-Chronic ulcers on the sole of the feet-Blindness.-Damage to the nasal septum
Unlike the myth that the disease cannot be cured, it could be cured and treated. Multidrug therapy is used in which 2 or 3 antibiotics are prescribed at the same time. Treatment lasts for one to two years. If the person is on MDT for 72 hours, the disease becomes non-infectious and with the completion of treatment as prescribed, the disease is cured.
If the disease is left untreated then paralysis, limbs crippling, corneal ulcers or blindness can occur. Also, the treatment can cure the disease but not reverse the nerve damage that has already occurred. It is therefore important for the early detection of the disease and it is advised to seek treatment as soon as possible before the occurrence of any permanent nerve damage.
The stigma associated with the disease
As it is a 4000-year-old disease, it has become surrounded by a lot of myths such as it is a disease sent by god on the commitment of sin, it no longer exists, it cannot be treated, it only affects the elderly, people infected should be kept in isolation and must be secluded, it is highly contagious, it causes the fingers and toes to fall off. To eradicate the disease these misconceptions need to be cleared off and awareness should be created based on the reality of the disease.
The facts are that it is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium leprae which is a slow-growing bacteria and incubation time for it is five years, leprosy still exists, it is a treatable disease, it affects people of all ages, and the person affected can live a normal life and, after 72 hours of MDT, the person is no longer infectious, in advanced leprosy due to loss of pain sensation patient could injure themselves repeatedly without knowing, leading to infections and tissue loss. This can be prevented if diagnosed and treated in time.
Impact of leprosy on mental health
As the disease is surrounded by stigma and society tends to discriminate against those infected. It takes a toll on the patient’s and their family member’s emotional well-being. The symptoms also can bring a lot of shame to the person affected. It has been found that the patient shows depressive disorders, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. It brings a lot of mental distress to the patients. It leads the person to have low self-esteem, fear, sadness, anger, and low quality of life.
World Leprosy day is celebrated on the last Sunday of January every year to raise awareness that the disease is nothing to be ashamed of and that it is completely curable. The stigma needs to be broken and the discrimination needs to be stopped. We, as a society need to come forward and help those who are suffering.
Disclaimer Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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