What causes leprosy?

            You must have heard of the great service, Mother Teresa of India, the Nobel Prize winner, is rendering to lepers. Even international organizations such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, etc are engaged in a continuous worldwide fight against leprosy. What is leprosy and how is it caused?

            Leprosy is caused by certain bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae bacillus. They attack the skin and nervous system, causing lumps and patches of discolouration on the skin. These occur mainly on the ears, face, testes and the limbs. The inner surface of the mouth and nose also get affected. When the disease spreads to the eyes, it causes blindness. The affected nerves are destroyed. The fingers and the toes may lose all sensation and become paralyzed. 

            Leprosy is mainly of two types: Lepromatous or Cutaneous; and Tuberculoid. Lepromatous is marked by wide-spread infiltration of grainy masses of inflamed tissue under the skin, face, testes and mucosal membranes of the upper respiratory tract. But the tuberculoid is marked by stain-like lesions with raised, reddish borders and patches that become insensitive to physical stimulus as they spread. The symptoms of this disease are thickening of the skin, loss of hair, deformities of bones and joints and loss of sensation in various areas of the body.

            Leprosy’s treatment involves a long-range use of Sulfone drugs to bring an immediate stop to the infection. Severe cases, however, might also need surgery. Other drugs used to treat it are sulfoxone and solapsone. An ointment named ditophal ointment is also used with some success by rubbing on the affected areas in the body. This is a volatile substance which is lethal to the leprosy bacteria. It is generally used with another therapy which is called dapsone therapy. These drugs are fairly inexpensive. According to rough estimates one in every five patients ever receives proper treatment.

            Today the reported cases of leprosy throughout the world number at least 2,000,000 and the actual number of infected-people may be as large as 10,000,000. It is still not clear how its germs spread the infection. It appears that prolonged, close physical contact with an infected person usually precedes active infection in susceptible persons. According to the experts the disease is mildly contagious. Infants born of infected parents do not develop the disease if separated from them at an early stage.

            Leprosy occurs mainly under humid, tropical and subtropical climates. The majority of lepers are found in different parts of Asia that include Japan, Korea, and the Pacific Islands.