What is leprosy?
Leprosy is a chronic skin and nerve disease caused by the organism Mycobacterium leprae. This is a bacterium from the same family as that which causes tuberculosis, but its behaviour and the way it affects tissues is markedly different.
The leprosy bacillus has a predilection for cooler parts of the body, notably the subcutaneous areas of the skin where it damages hair follicles, sweat glands and superficial nerves causing a characteristic hairless, dry patch of abnormal or absent sensation, and very often accompanied also by discoloration of the affected area of skin. More dangerous though is when the bacilli attack larger "trunk" nerves at characteristic locations, causing much more extensive damage to the motor ans sensory function subserved by that nerve. This results in classical presentations such as the "claw" hand, "drop" foot, staring eyes. Other deformities seen are a collapsed or sunken bridge of the nose, and infiltration of large areas of the body with the bacillus resulting in thickened folds of skin, which on the face, resemble those on the visage of a lion - the leonine face.
- A leprosy patient is someone who has one or more skin patches with definite loss of sensation and demonstrable leprosy bacilli.
- Leprosy patches can be pale or reddish or copper-coloured; they can be flat or raised.
- Leprosy patches do not itch, usually do not hurt; they lack sensation to heat, touch or pain; and can appear anywhere on the body
- Leprosy mainly affects the skin and nerves.
- Leprosy can affect rich or poor, all ages and both sexes
- Deformities occur because of delay in recognition of the disease and starting of treatment.
If treatment is started early and taken regularly deformities can be prevented to a very large extent.
Read Frequently Asked Questions on Leprosy