Leprosy or Hansen’s disease is infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae (also M.leprae). People can get infected through respiratory droplets. Although scientists believe this is the mode of leprosy transmission, more than 50% of leprosy patients didn’t have any contact with people infected with M. leprae. Genetics, extent of exposure and some environmental factors have been discovered to play a role in actual development of the disease.
Leprosy was discovered in 1873. and this is one of the conditions that doesn’t cause many treatment problems to modern medicine. Some people still associate leprosy with the disease described in the Bible, however, doctors believe that this has actually included variety of skin problems. Biblical leprosy is supposed to have included diseases such as fungal infections of the skin, psoriasis, smallpox and even syphilis.
Mycobacterium leprae, the cause of leprosy, is known to grow very slow and affect the skin, mucous membranes and the nerves. Bacteria starts to multiply in the body and first symptoms usually appear after several years. Patients may have no symptoms for 3 to 5 years after the initial infection with M. leprae and this time is known as incubation period. It can actually last any time from 6 months to even few decades.
Serious cases of leprosy could provoke destruction in the body and further affect the skin, peripheral nerves, but also some other parts of the body, such as front portion of the eyes, hands, feet or testes. Some patients may also experience damage of the upper respiratory airways due to leprosy infection.
Cause of Leprosy
Mycobacterium leprae is definitively identified as the cause of leprosy. This bacterium belongs to the same group of bacteria as the cause of tuberculosis (called Mycobacterium tuberculosis or M. tuberculosis).
As we already mentioned, M. leprae takes a long period of time to grow and infected person may live for years without any apparent symptoms and not knowing that he or she is infected with leprosy. This bacterium usually affects human skin, various mucous membranes and the nerves, but is also found to be responsible for different problems with the eyes, bones, muscles and testes.
People could suffer from leprosy at any age, but this problem is frequently found in children younger than 10 years of age. Babies and young children, especially those younger than 1 year of age, rarely suffer from leprosy. In children, leprosy affects boys and girls equally, while adult men are more likely to develop this problem than adult women.