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Alternative namesLeprosy is an infectious disease that has been known since biblical times. It is characterized by disfiguring skin lesions, peripheral nerve damage, and progressive debilitation.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Leprosy is caused by the organism
. It is a difficult disease to transmit and has a long incubation period, which makes it difficult to determine where or when the disease was contracted. Children are more susceptible than adults to contracting the disease.
All forms of the disease eventually cause peripheral neurological damage (nerve damage in the extremities) manifested by sensory loss in the skin and muscle weakness . People with long-term leprosy may lose the use of their hands or feet due to repeated injury resulting from lack of sensation.
Effective medications exist, and isolation of victims in "leper colonies" is unnecessary. The emergence of drug-resistant Mycobacterium leprae , as well as increased numbers of cases worldwide, have led to global concern about this disease.
Signs and tests
TreatmentMedications used to eliminate the microorganism and to reduce symptoms include:
Expectations (prognosis)Early recognition is important. Early treatment limits damage by the disease, renders the person noninfectious, and allows for a normal lifestyle.
Calling your health care providerCall your health care provider if signs or symptoms described here occur, especially following exposure. Cases of leprosy in the United States need to be reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
PreventionPrevention consists of avoiding close physical contact with untreated people. People on long-term medication become noninfectious (they do not transmit the organism that causes the disease).
Update Date: 11/18/2003D. Scott Smith, MD, MSc, DTM&H, Infectious Diseases Division and Dept. of Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University Medical School, Stanford, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT