Leprosy Essay, Research Paper
Leprosy has been around for thousands of years, since the biblical times. It was first
identified by Gerhard A. Hansen in 1873. It was the first bacterium to be identified as disease
causing in humans. It should be known that the word ‘leper’ has connotations of immorality
and uncleanness and is considered very offensive.
Leprosy is a chronic bacterial disease of the upper respiratory tract, skin, nerves in
the hands and feet, and the lining of the nose. Leprosy is uncommon in the United States.
There is a known cure for leprosy, also called ‘Hansen’s disease’. It is a poor pathogen
because of the high rate of self – healing among early lesions. Most people who contract
Mycobacterium leprae do not get leprosy from the bacteria. Hands and feet do not fall off
in leprosy. They are permanently shrunken in the people who receive no treatment. Those
who seek treatment at the early signs of leprosy can avoid disfigurement.
Mycobacterium leprae is the organism that causes the disease known as leprosy and
Hansen’s disease. Mycobacterium leprae has many characteristics, it is classified as bacillus,
meaning that it is rod shaped. The organism is Gram-positive because it contains no extra
lipid layer and it is an obligate intracellular pathogen that replicates only within the cells of its’
host. Leprosy affects the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes. Leprosy is the only bacterial
pathogen capable of entering the peripheral nerves.
The symptoms for leprosy include chronically stuffy nose, many skin lesions and
nodules on the body, lesions that are pale white, red, or copper toned, thickened nerves, and
loss of the sense of touch; limbs can become numb. In the late stages of leprosy there is
shrinking of extremities ( hands, feet, nose, and the face ). The incubation period varies
from three to five years after the disease is contracted. The variety of symptoms is
determined by the immune responsiveness of the host.
The spread of leprosy takes place by entering the nasal passages and broken skin.
Germs get in the air through nasal discharge and shed skin of untreated infected people. To
contract leprosy, prolonged contact with an infected person is needed ( like family members).
Children are more susceptible to the disease because their immune systems are less
Until the 1940’s leprosy was incurable. Treatment appeared in the late 1940’s with
the introduction of dapsone and it’s derivatives. The World Health Organization (WHO)
suggests Multiple Drug Therapy (MDT) for leprosy. This is a combination of dapsone,
rifampicin, and clofazmine. Treatments last 6 to 24 months or until the disease is cured.
However, Mycobacterium leprae has recently shown resistance to all three if these drugs.
If this continues a different cure for leprosy will have to be made.
“The Disease and its treatment.” World Health Organization database.
“Leprosy (Hansen’s disease).” Net Medicine.
“Mycobacterium leprae.” The NCGR Microbial Genome Site.