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Most people think that leprosy is a thing of the past. Well, not quite. It is still around and still affects lots of people. Most cases of leprosy these days happen in the developing world, but even in Europe the disease still occurs. Last remaining leprosorium on European continent is located in Romania.
It is also known as Hansen’s disease, named after the physician Gerhard A. Hansen who discovered the causative bacterium in 1873. Leprosy is a very ancient disease. It is mentioned in the Bible and Vedas and was surrounded by various myths. Many believed that this is a curse from God to punish people for immoral behavior, and that it is incurable and so contagious that the infected persons should be detached from normal social life. But with the progress of science all these legends have been disproved.
Biological nature of the disease
The pathogen behind the leprosy infection is bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. This is an aerobic (oxygen requiring) pathogen showing slow growth with high incubation time. It gets transmitted through nasal droplets.
Upon infection, the bacteria primarily attack skin and later the peripheral nervous system and mucosa of the upper respiratory tract.
Manifestations of leprosy
Leprosy takes 3 to 5 years and sometimes even 20 years to manifest symptoms post infection. It is a granulomatous disease where affected tissues are characterized by inflamed granulation. Therefore, on the onset it affects the skin forming lesions, nodules, lumps and sores commonly known as plaques.
Nerve damage leads to loss of sensation and muscle weakness. In many cases, loss of fingers, toes and nose tips are associated with leprosy. This is not the result of leprosy, however. Rather, this is caused by secondary infections occurred due to the leprosy-compromised immune system.
Other complications related to this disease include blindness or glaucoma, nosebleeds and a chronic, stuffy nose, face dis-figuration that includes lumps, permanent swellings and bump, erectile dysfunction and infertility in men, kidney failure.
Leprosy comes with many symptoms and forms
According to the World’s Health Organization, leprosy is subdivided into two major categories, paucibacillary and multibacillary. This classification is based on the proliferation rate of the bacteria.
In paucibacillary form, the bacteria grow in small numbers as compared to the multibacillary form. Depending on the symptoms, doctors distinguish six types of leprosy. They differ in particular manifestation and severity.