What is it?
How many leprosy patients have been ostracized from their community since ancient times? This disease, also known as Hansen’s disease, has indeed always stimulated the imagination and the Bible devotes several chapters to it. It is a chronic infectious disease that causes damage to the peripheral nerves (not the brain or spinal cord), skin, mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and eyes. Today we have a very effective treatment to cure this once incurable pathology. But in the absence of treatment, it can severely maim the skin and nerve damage leads to muscle atrophy and therefore disabilities.
In recent decades, the fight against leprosy has had tremendous results, with a decrease in its prevalence of 90% worldwide. However, it remains a public health problem in several countries, such as India and Brazil. As for France, the disease is still present in Réunion and Guyana, where a few isolated cases are notified each year to the health authorities. Mayotte, in the Indian Ocean, is the department most affected: 307 new cases were diagnosed from 2006 to 2011. This is the only French territory where leprosy is considered endemic, exceeding the threshold of 5 affected people out of 10,000.
Symptoms of Meadow
The bacterium responsible for leprosy multiplies very slowly, the incubation of the disease can last several years, from 2 to 10 years, and sometimes even 20 years!
- Leprosy is recognizable by the skin lesions it causes. Painful patches of depigmentation, or reddish, appear and sometimes excrescences.
- The skin thickens and the damage to the peripheral nerves causes loss of sensation.
- Leprosy also causes muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis, most often hands and feet.
- Eye disorders can cause blindness.
The diagnosis is confirmed by means of a search for bacillus on smear of the earlobe. Leprosy is called “paucibacillary” when the patient has one to five insensible skin lesions and “multibacillary” if he has more than five.
The origins of the disease
The infectious agent responsible for leprosy is the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. It is more specifically a bacillus, so a rod-shaped bacterium. Researchers at the Pasteur Institute have shown, through the study of its genome, that a single clone of the bacillus is responsible for the global pandemic. According to this discovery, leprosy originated in East Africa or the Near East, and then spread as human migration progressed.
Risk factors for Meadow
The human being is the only reservoir of the disease and the transmission of leprosy occurs from one individual to another, via droplets of the mouth or the nose. But contrary to popular belief, leprosy is not very contagious and is transmitted only through close and prolonged contact with an infected person. The risk of being infected during a trip to an endemic area is therefore low. Important clarification: a person with leprosy but treated is no longer contagious.
Prevention and treatment of Meadow
The World Health Organization provides patients with free treatment that is effective, has few side effects, and prevents transmission of the disease. It is multidrug therapy (MDT) which combines three antibiotics for a period of six to twelve months: dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine.