Leprosy is an infectious skin and nerve disease which can also affect the eyes and respiratory system.Leprosy can only be caught through close and repeated contact with nose and mouth droplets from someone with untreated, severe leprosy. Children are more likely to get leprosy than adults. Leprosy is an acquired infectious disease that can affect individuals of all ages. It is caused by the acid-fast, rod-shaped bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. Leprosy primarily affects the skin and the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord, called the peripheral nerves. It may also strike the eyes and the thin tissue lining the inside of the nose. The main symptom of leprosy is disfiguring skin sores, lumps, or bumps that do not go away after several weeks or months. The skin sores are pale-colored.
- Single or multiple skin lesions that are often found on cooler parts of the body such as the face, buttocks, and extremities.
- Thickening of the skin and peripheral nerves.
- Ulcerations of the skin.
- Peripheral nerve involvement leading to loss of sensation.
- Peripheral nerve involvement leading to muscle weakness.
- Testicular involvement leading to sexual dysfunction or sterility.
- Eye involvement including eye pain, eye redness, inability to close the eyelids, corneal ulcers, and blindness
- Loss of eyebrows and eyelashes
- Destruction of the nasal cartilage
It takes a very long time for symptoms to appear after coming into contact with the leprosy-causing bacteria. Some people do not develop symptoms until 20 or more years later. The time between contact with the bacteria and the appearance of symptoms is called the incubation period. Leprosy’s long incubation period makes it very difficult for doctors to determine when and where a person with leprosy originally became ill.
If you have a suspicious skin sore, your doctor will remove a small sample of the abnormal skin and send it to a laboratory to be examined. This is called a skin biopsy. A skin smear test may also be done. With paucibacillary leprosy, no bacteria will be detected. In contrast, bacteria are expected to be found on a skin smear test from a person with multibacillary leprosy.
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