Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease after the physician who identified the cause, is a disease that is best known for causing skin lesions that often appear as deformations or growths. If it is untreated the disease commonly progresses and leads to permanent disfiguration and damage to the eyes, skin, nerves and limbs. Evidence for this disease dates back to at least 4000 years ago and it has affected many people and civilizations through the years. Leprosy drugs are now available to cure this disease, but in the past those suffering leprosy were quarantined or segregated in leper colonies and some of these still exist today.
What causes leprosy?
Although the disease is ancient the cause of leprosy wasn’t discovered until 1873 when Norwegian physician G. H. Armauer Hansen discovered a bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae (also known as Hansen’s coccus spirilly). This was the first time a bacteria was shown to cause disease in humans.
In 2008 a new species of bacteria, called Mycobacterium lepromatosis, that also causes leprosy was discovered. It is a separate, but closely related species to the previously discovered bacteria. It is known to cause a type of leprosy called diffuse Lepromatous leprosy, which is most commonly found in the Caribbean and Mexico.
The transmission of the disease is still not very well known, but most experts think that it is passed through respiratory droplets. The disease has a varied incubation period, from a few weeks through to 30 years.
Did you know?
It has been shown that leprosy can be passed onto humans by armadillos!
It is estimated that 95% of the population is naturally immune to the disease.