Leprosy is a dreaded disease that is caused by a bacterium. The following HealthHearty write-up provides information on the symptoms of leprosy.
Leprosy is a disease that is feared by one and all. There are many myths surrounding this disease. The affected individuals are socially stigmatized and forced to live in isolation, away from the community. It is a treatable and manageable condition today. In the United States, there have been less than 100 reported cases in a year. Also known as Hansen’s disease, leprosy is a bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. The most characteristic sign of this condition is disfigurement due to the development of ugly skin sores. The peripheral nerves and mucosa of the upper respiratory tract are affected with this granulomatous disease. It is also characterized by nerve damage and progressive debilitation.
There are two forms of the disease: tuberculoid and lepromatous. The second type is the most severe form of the two. The incubation period may last for a few months to many years or decades. Therefore, in most cases, the signs may not be observed immediately.
The symptoms make an appearance after three to five years of the incubation period. The skin and peripheral nerves are the first ones to get affected. One develops skin lesions that are lighter in color than the normal skin color. These lesions show decreased sensation to touch, heat, as well as pain. These lesions do not heal even after several months. Gradually, a person begins to show numbness and lack of sensation in hands, legs, arms, and feet.
In case of tuberculoid type, one may develop one or more red skin patches on the trunk and body extremities. The patient has decreased sensation in these areas. Apart from the red patches, the patient develops severe pain, muscle weakness, skin stiffness, loss of fingers and toes, blindness, enlarged nerves near the elbow and knees, etc.
Lepromatous type is the most severe form of the disease. The indications include a rash on the face, ears, elbows, wrist, buttocks, and knees. This skin rash is either flat or raised, small or large, and can be dark or light in color. The symptoms of the lepromatous leprosy include thinning of the eyebrows and eyelashes, thickening of the skin on the face, nasal stiffness, and swelling of the lymph nodes of groin and armpits. Other indications include nosebleeds, and scarring of the testes, which may cause infertility and gynecomastia (enlarged male breasts).
A single infection or injury on the fingers and toes may lead to loss of fingers and toes. The person actually does not feel any pain or sensation in the extremities. Damage and scarring of the eyes may lead to blindness.
Scientists are still baffled about the mode of transmission. The general belief about its transmission is that it is through airborne nasal droplets. When a healthy person stays in contact with the infected person for a long time, he/she may contract the disease. However, there are certain factors that may influence the spread of disease. The level of susceptibility of an individual is very important. The environment factors, length of contact with infected person and genetics in some cases influence the spread of disease. Therefore, it is commonly seen that this disease may spread from an infected spouse to healthy spouse, or from infected parents to children, etc. Also, an infected mother cannot transmit the disease to her unborn child. This is not a sexually transmitted disease. Animal to human transmission is rare.
In the olden times, there was no cure for leprosy. However, with the advancement of medical science, it can now be cured using antibiotics. Early diagnosis of symptoms and prompt treatment will help to minimize the ill-effects of the disease to a great extent. The treatment involves the use of antibiotics for about 6 months. One needs to follow the entire regime of antibiotics without a break to be fully cured of the disease. In some cases, orthopedic surgeons, eye doctors, and physical therapists are needed to provide supportive care. Cosmetic and reconstructive surgery is needed in some cases.
If one has remained in contact with an infected person for a really long time, one should seek medical assistance. Children are more susceptible to this infection than adults. Infected individuals face a lot of physical, as well as psychological hardships. Even today, social stigma is attached to the disease.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.