Undoubtedly no disease has cast such an intense social stigma over its sufferers as Hansen's Disease - commonly known as Leprosy. Leprosy has afflicted humanity since time immemorial. It once affected every continent and it has left behind a terrifying image in history and human memory - of mutilation, rejection and exclusion from society. Leprosy has struck fear into human beings for thousands of years, and was well recognized in the oldest civilizations of China, Egypt and India. A cumulative total of the number of individuals who, over the millennia, have suffered its chronic course of incurable disfigurement (see images below) and physical disabilities can never be calculated.


Appalling Images courtesy the National Library Of Medicine

Bacterial Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae, an acid-fast, rod-shaped bacillus. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract and also the eyes, apart from some other structures. When M.leprae was discovered by G.A. Hansen in 1873, it was the first bacterium to be identified as causing disease in man. Although Leprosy is contagious, it is not widespread because 95% of the population have immune systems able to cope with the bacteria.

 
Leprosy usually starts as a slightly light colored patch desensitized to pain, touch or temperature. The patch can be found anywhere in the body. Nerves near to these patches and at the joints are swollen when affected. In the majority of patients, the disease progresses without any deformity. In a few patients the involved nerves become damaged. When improperly treated, the nerve damage is severe and may lead to deformities of hands, feet and eyes. These deformities occur due to loss of sensation and a break in the communication between nerves and muscles. Loss of sensation results in unusual injuries and ulcers. The eyes are affected in a few patients with prolonged disease.

Treatment for leprosy only appeared in the late 1940s with the introduction of dapsone, and its derivatives. Leprosy bacilli resistant to dapsone gradually appeared and became widespread. In 1997, there were an estimated 1.2 million cases in the world, most of them concentrated in South-East Asia, Africa and the Americas. It is estimated that there are between one and two million people visibly and irreversibly disabled due to past and present leprosy who require to be cared for by the community in which they live.


Turn of the century leprosarium in Jerusalem

The photos shown above were gleaned from the magnificent website of appalling photos collected by Tom Comegys and various other resources.
The information was mercilessly swiped from various internet resources as well. Gosh, talk about vague credits!.



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