Leprosy is a disease caused by the bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae, which attacks nerves in the hands, feet and face making them fragile and insensitive. Leprosy does not cause body parts to fall off; rather through loss of feeling people damage their hands and feet during basic daily activities, resulting sometimes in loss of limbs or extremities. Untreated, leprosy ultimately results in disability including ulcers and physical deformities.
There are two urban myths about leprosy that are both false: The first is that leprosy is incurable. In the last fifty years leprosy has gone from a communicable disease confined to leprosy colonies, to a completely curable disease through Multi Drug Therapy (MDT). The World Health Organization (WHO) provides this to any country that is working to eliminate leprosy. If leprosy is caught in an early enough stage it can be cured, however any nerve or tissue damage cannot re-grow.
The second urban myth about leprosy is that it is extremely contagious. In truth most people are naturally immune to it, and it is estimated that 90% of the world’s population is totally immune to leprosy. For those who are susceptible, close contact to an infected person is not recommended. However, becoming infected does not happen easily as most people expect.
At this stage researchers are uncertain about the mode of transmission, but most agree that it is spread somewhat similarly to the common cold through respiratory droplets. In vulnerable areas, leprosy can be transmitted readily, but still only a few cases will develop into the clinical disease.
Unfortunately one of the worst side-effects of leprosy is the stigma it carries. Sufferers are not only shunned by their communities, but also by their families. This is completely unnecessary as the treatment can now completely cure a patient if they are treated early enough.
Community awareness and education is important to break down the fear and stigma of this disease. The Leprosy Mission is working hard in many countries to educate and help communities vulnerable to leprosy.
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