World Leprosy Day 2019

Michele du Plessis

World Leprosy Day takes place on the last Sunday in January, thus January 27th in 2019. Leprosy is not just a Biblical illness and it is not extinct, but alive and kicking all over the world. More than 210 000 new cases are reported each year and it is believed that there are millions of people living undiagnosed.

Leprosy charities and governments join together each year to raise awareness of this disease; each year they ask that more resources be dedicated to leprosy research as this is a vastly underfunded area.

“Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosal surfaces of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes. Leprosy is known to occur at all ages ranging from early infancy to very old age. Leprosy is curable and early treatment averts most disabilities.” World Health Organisation (WHO).

The exact mechanism of transmission of leprosy is not known.  The most widely held belief was that the disease was transmitted by contact between cases of leprosy and healthy persons but recently, the possibility of transmission by the respiratory route is gaining ground. Transmission through insects also cannot be ruled out.

Signs/symptoms are easily seen. Skin lesions, singular or multiple, consistent with leprosy and with definite sensory loss, with or without thickened nerves, usually less pigmented than the surrounding normal skin and sometimes the lesion is reddish or copper-coloured.  A variety of skin lesions may be seen but macules (flat), papules (raised), or nodules are common. “Thickened nerves, mainly peripheral nerve trunks constitute another feature of leprosy. A thickened nerve is often accompanied by other signs as a result of damage to the nerve. These may be a loss of sensation in the skin and weakness of muscles supplied by the affected nerve.”

“Leprosy can be classified on the basis of clinical manifestations and skin smear results and is curable with a combination of drugs known as multidrug therapy (MDT).

For more information, visit the World Health Organization website.


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