Mycobacterium leprae (M. leprae) bacteria cause leprosy (Hansen’s Disease), which is a chronic infection. It can cause problems with the skin and nerves of the hands and feet, as well as the eyes and nasal lining. Leprosy can damage other organs, such as the kidneys and in some testicles in men, in some situations. Leprosy can cause abnormalities in the hands and feet, blindness, and kidney failure if left untreated.
People all throughout the world have incorrect and harmful assumptions about leprosy. These views are based on myths, and they contribute to discrimination against persons living with leprosy, as well as hiding symptoms and delaying treatment. When we debunk such myths, we become leprosy advocates, bringing us closer to a world free of the disease.
• Myth 1:
You shouldn’t touch anyone with leprosy because it’s highly contagious.
• Fact 1:
Leprosy is transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during close, frequent and prolonged contact with untreated patients. One will not get the disease from a casual contact with a treated patient (shaking hands or sitting next to them).
• Myth 2:
Leprosy cannot be cured
• Fact 2:
Leprosy is a treatable and curable disease. Therapy is multidrug, typically using 2 or 3 antibiotics at the same time, which lasts from 6 months to 2 years depending on the disease severity. The medications used to treat leprosy is very effective in killing the bacteria, rendering the patients to be not infectious/contagious.
• Myth 3:
Leprosy causes parts of your body to fall off
• Fact 3:
The disease itself does not cause body parts to fall off. However, a severe inflammatory reaction from an untreated laceration can lead to amputation.
• Myth 4:
People with leprosy need to live in a special home isolated from healthy people
• Fact 4:
People with leprosy who are being treated with antibiotics can live a normal life among their family and friends and can continue to attend work or school.
Many consider leprosy to be an ancient disease that was eradicated many years ago. But every year, thousands of men, women and children around the world develop the disease. Despite effective treatment, leprosy is one of the most stigmatized diseases in the world, and people with leprosy-related disorders are shunned, denied basic human rights and discriminated against in many countries. The stigma of leprosy affects the physical, psychological, social and economic well-being of leprosy patients and contributes to the vicious cycle of poverty in the affected areas.
World Leprosy Day aims to gain a better understanding of leprosy and fight the social stigma associated with this fully curable disease. Do your part by educating yourself about Leprosy and share with your friends and family that leprosy is a curable disease.