Preventing leprosy

Known as the poor mans disease leprosy can be prevented. Read on to find out how to prevent leprosy

By Zoha Tapia

Leprosy is an ordinary disease caused by a germ (Bacteria) called Mycobactrerium Leprae (Leprosy germs).  Human beings are the only animals, which suffers from the disease. Leprosy is a disease more known due to the stigma attached to it, which is mainly due to the misconceptions surrounding the disease. However, it is important to know that leprosy is not a contagious disease but an infectious disease which can be prevented.

Mycobacterium leprae, one of the causative agents of leprosy. As acid-fast bacteria, M. leprae appear red when a Ziehl-Neelsen stain is used
Source of infection
A patient suffering from leprosy is the only source of infection and leprosy germs spread to healthy human beings. Dr PV Ranganadha Rao, chief executive of LEPRA, India says, “The spread is believed to be through air but unlike many other diseases, once a patient is put on treatment, she or he ceases to be infectious and is no harm as a source of infection. The beggars seen on the pavements and temples do not have active leprosy but only have deformities, which are ugly remnants of the disease.”

95% of the Indian population are immune to the disease and those who are less immune or completely susceptible suffer from the disease. Leprosy germs attack nerves in the periphery, around the elbows, wrists, knees ankles and sometimes jaws. Though the nerves are attacked, the symptoms appear in the skin.

The earliest manifestation of the disease is a skin patch, which is less coloured than the surrounding skin, in medical terms described as hypo pigmented patch. The characteristic feature of the leprosy patch is that it is not sensitive to touch, pain and feeling of hot or cold.

Preventing leprosy
As mentioned earlier leprosy germs are passed on from a person suffering from active leprosy to a healthy human being. In order to break the chain of transmission, Dr Rao says, “The only way to break the chain is an effective drug regimen for those suffering from leprosy. Multi-drug therapy (MDT) consisting of rifampicin, dapsone, and clofazimine is a very effective drug regimen for leprosy. In the absence of a preventive vaccine, treating patients with MDT is the only tool medical science can offer to break the chain of transmission in the community. After one dose of rifamipicin, the patient ceases to be infective and cannot spread the disease.”

Considering the low infective nature and lack of an effective vaccine, early diagnosis and complete treatment with MDT is the only preventive measure one can assume as of today. Completion of the treatment reduces the chance of a relapse.

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