World Leprosy Day - 31 January
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae, an
acid-fast, rod-shaped bacillus. The disease mainly affects the skin, the
peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract and also the eyes,
apart from some other structures.
Since ancient times, leprosy has been regarded as a contagious, mutilating
and incurable disease. Throughout history, the afflicted have often been
ostracized by their communities and families.
In KZN there were 33 new cases reported in 2008 with 13 cases from Mangusi.
- Leprosy is a chronic disease caused by a bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae;
- M. leprae multiplies very slowly and the incubation period of the disease
is about five years. Symptoms can take as long as 20 years to appear;
- Leprosy is not highly infectious. It is transmitted via droplets, from the
nose and mouth, during close and frequent contacts with untreated cases.
Disabilities that may occur:
- Leprosy mainly affects the skin and nerves;
- If untreated, there can be progressive and permanent damage to the skin,
nerves, limbs and eyes.
- Skin patches are lighter in colour than the surrounding skin
- Skin patches with little or no feeling.
- Thickening of the skin or lumps, especially on the face and ears.
- Pain, tenderness and/or thickening of a nerve (usually near the joints).
- Loss of feeling or weakness of fingers and/or toes.
- Loss of eyebrows, nose bleeds and a blocked nose.
Nerve damage can result in clawing of fingers, paralysis of the eyelids so
that the person cannot blink, injuries to hands and feet e.g. burns
Classification of Leprosy:
Leprosy can be classified on the basis of clinical manifestations and skin
smear results. In the classification based on skin smears, patients showing
negative smears at all sites are grouped as paucibacillary leprosy (PB),
while those showing positive smears at any site are grouped as having
multibacillary leprosy (MB).
Yes, leprosy can be successfully treated. Treatment usually lasts between 6
months to 2 years, depending on how severely a person is affected.
- The best time to start treatment is as soon as the signs of leprosy appear.
- Treatment reduces the risk of the person spreading leprosy.
- Treatment reduces the person's risk of getting disabilities.
- Leprosy is a curable disease and treatment provided in the early stages
High Effectiveness of Multidrug Therapy (MDT)
Message to the community:
- Paucibacillary leprosy (PB) patients treated with MDT are cured within six months;
- Multibacillary leprosy (MB) patients treated with MDT are cured within 12 months;
- Patients are no longer infectious to others after the first dose of MDT.
- There are virtually no relapses, i.e. recurrences of the disease after
treatment is completed;
- No resistance of the bacillus to MDT has been detected;
- WHO estimates that early detection and treatment with MDT has prevented
about four million people from being disabled. This suggests great
cost-effectiveness of MDT as a health intervention, considering the economic
and social loss averted.
- A major problem for leprosy patients is that they are often ostracized due
to their disabilities and the fear which many people have of the disease.
The Leprosy Mission in KZN runs a training programme and their role is
- To teach the community:
- The truth about leprosy.
- The signs of leprosy.
- The complications that can occur as a result of leprosy.
- To support people with leprosy by
- Motivating them to take treatment correctly.
- Caring for their disabilities.
- To help patients and their families overcome their fear and shame.
- To support the family of a person with leprosy by:
- Teaching them how to help the patient.
- Teaching them about the disease.
- To help the family overcome social, emotional, and spiritual obstacles
that they are facing.
A leprosy control programme is in operation in KZN. There are 4 facilities
that provide the service on an out –patient basis:
- Leprosy can be cured.
- Do not fear it. Treat it.
- Leprosy is not the result of a curse.
- There is no need to isolate a person with leprosy.
- People with leprosy who go untreated risk getting disabilities.
- Leprosy is not highly infectious.
- People with leprosy can stay with their families and remain active.
Compiled by: Premi Govender (STA-CDC)
Courtesy: World Health Organisation / Leprosy Mission
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