What exactly is leprosy?
Leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease) is a chronic disease caused by bacillus mycobacterium leprae. It affects principally the skin, the upper respiratory tract, peripheral nerves in the hands and feet, and the eyes.
How is it transmitted?
Leprosy is transmitted mainly via droplets from the nose. If leprosy is recognised in its early stages, it can be treated easily and it will not cause disabilities. This also means people are less likely to suffer from the discrimination that can destroy their lives and livelihoods.
How infectious is it?
Some 95% of us have a natural immunity to leprosy. The remaining 5% become vulnerable, mainly through poor nutrition, poor living conditions, lack of hygiene and a weakened immune system. Leprosy is not hereditary.
What are the signs of leprosy?
The first sign is often discoloured patches on the skin and sensory loss. People with leprosy frequently have sensations of numbness, tingling or burning in their hands or feet. They may also find it difficult to lift or hold things, or to move and walk.
How is it diagnosed?
Diagnosis is not always straightforward. The most reliable method is a skin-smear scan in the laboratory.
Why are people with leprosy often so disfigured?
People with leprosy lose all feeling in the affected areas. There is diminished awareness of harm from trauma or heat. Without treatment, this can lead to permanent damage to skin, nerves, limbs and eyes.
Is there a cure?
Leprosy is curable by Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT), available free from the World Health Organisation. If MDT is taken in the early stages of the disease, permanent damage to nerves is completely avoided.
Will it ever be eradicated?
Few diseases are entirely eradicated. The World Health Organisation defines ‘eradication’ as less than one person in 10,000 contracting the disease.
How is St Francis Leprosy Guild helping?
The Guild provides financial support to around 30 global partners to help them train healthcare professionals and volunteers who can reach out into poor communities in order to find, treat and cure people with leprosy symptoms. We also sponsor awareness programmes to help eliminate the stigma associated with leprosy so people are encouraged to report the disease early instead of hiding it until disabilities occur. And we continue to play our part in caring for those affected by the disease.