What's the Big Deal with Leprosy? | Teen Ink

What's the Big Deal with Leprosy?

April 16, 2018
By Anonymous

Leprosy is an infectious disease that is very well known throughout the world. Leprosy is also known as Hansen’s disease and it is mostly found in humans. Leprosy infected the humans in East Africa over 100,000 years ago, and from there, the disease spread to other parts of the world through human immigration. Around 1873, the Norwegian physician Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen discovered the bacterium, which was later named M. leprae. He kept his discovery to himself, but in 1879 Hansen shared his discovery with German physician Albert Neisser. Neisser then took over and tried to claim credit for Hansen’s discovery. From there, other scientists worked on finding a treatment for the disease, and it took them almost 50 years. Throughout its history, leprosy has affected many people, but with the work of scientists today and the technology, it is no longer a major issue to people today. To be fully educated about the illness of leprosy, one should know the causes, symptoms, and treatment of the disease.

The first step in understanding leprosy is knowing the cause. Leprosy is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium Leprae, or M. leprae (Isola 1333). M. leprae is considered to be an obligate intracellular bacterium, which means that it can only grow inside other cells (“Hansen’s). The bacterium is known to grow inside skin and nerve cells. But the bacterium takes an extremely long time to reproduce inside of the cells (Isola 1333). Leprosy can affect several different parts of the body; some parts include the nerves, skin, eyes, and nose. And once the bacteria attacks the nerves, the nerves become very swollen under the skin, and this often leads to the loss of the ability to touch and feel. Normally, the affected skin changes color or becomes reddish due to inflammation (“Leprosy” 1). Once M. leprae invades the body there can be a response in the immune system, in the deeper layers of the skin. The hair follicles, sweat glands, and nerves can be destroyed, and as a result, the skin becomes dry and discolored, and it loses its sensitivity. These are the most common reactions that happen once the M. leprae invades the body (Cherath 2). In the process of learning about M. leprae, scientists discovered many things: “The leprosy bacterium is the only bacterium known to destroy peripheral nerve tissue” (Isola 1333). The bacterium is very harmful and when it destroys the nerve tissue; it then makes the nerves more fragile and easier to be infected. By knowing the causes of leprosy, people will gain a better understanding of the disease.

 In addition to learning about the causes of leprosy, one should also learn to recognize the symptoms of the disease. There are two main forms of leprosy, and the two forms are called tuberculoid and lepromatous leprosy. But in finding out which type of leprosy patients have depends on their cellular response to the bacteria: “A quick and strong cellular response by a person infected with M. leprae will result in no symptoms or in the mild form of the disease: tuberculoid leprosy. A slow or weak cellular response by a person exposed to leprosy may result in the more severe form of the disease” (Isola 1333). And one the doctor finds out the patient’s cellular response to the bacteria, they then can tell which type of the disease the patient may have. Tuberculoid leprosy is the least serious of the two types. People experience minor side effects from this type, but they can be treated very easily (Scogna 2). And Lepromatous leprosy is the most severe of the two. In this form, multiple skin lesions occur and skin and nerve damage are very extensive (Scogna 2). Even though there are two different types of leprosy, they share the same symptoms. And the symptoms of leprosy are not obvious, but they will slowly develop over many years (Cherath 3). Some very common symptoms are numbness, skin lesions, and disfiguration. Numbness is one of the first symptoms patients experience, and it usually occurs in the hands (Cherath 3). Another symptom of leprosy is skin lesions, and skin lesions are abnormal growths that stick out from the skin. One of the last symptoms is disfiguration, and it usually occurs in the face. Along with facial distortion, patients can experience the loss of fingers and toes (Cherath 3). Even though the symptoms of leprosy occur over a long period of time, it is still important to understand all the possible symptoms of the disease.

Lastly, for the treatment of leprosy, there is one primary treatment that is used. The most commonly used treatment for leprosy is antibiotics (“Leprosy” 1). Once a patient is diagnosed, treatment normally begins right away. Once treatment is started, the patient is no longer contagious (“Leprosy” 1). The main treatment for leprosy is antibiotics, therefore, a vaccine is still not available. The main antibiotics prescribed to the patients are Dapsone, Rifampin, and Clofazimine (Cherath 4). Dapsone is the most widely used antibiotic for leprosy, and it is often prescribed with another antibiotic called Rifampin. Dapsone also has many side effects: nausea, dizziness, palpitations, jaundice, and rashes (Cherath 4). Another antibiotic is Rifampin, and Rifampin goes hand and hand with Dapsone. Rifampin increases the metabolism of Dapsone in the body, and it can produce some side effects such as muscle cramps or nausea (Cherath 4). Another antibiotic prescribed to patients is Clofazimine. Clofazimine can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea as well as discoloration of the skin (Cherath 4). Going through the process of treatment, patients must be aware that it could cause a potentially serious problem in their immune systems (Cherath 4). Even though leprosy has caused many deaths in the past, there have been many advancements to the treatment: “Treatments for leprosy have improved considerably over the past 40 years and contributed to the rapid decline of leprosy” (Scogna 2). And leprosy is continuing to decline because of all of the new technology in the world today. Understanding all the possible methods of treatment for leprosy is very important for a possibly quicker recovery.

When dealing with the disease of leprosy, it is important to know and understand the causes, symptoms, and treatments of the illness. Leprosy is caused by the bacterium M. leprae that only grows inside skin and nerve cells. The disease can affect many parts of the body, but the main ones include the nerves, skin, eyes, and nose. There are also two main types of leprosy, and they are tuberculoid and lepromatous leprosy. Lepromatous is the most severe of the two types, and tuberculoid is the most commonly found form of leprosy. The symptoms of leprosy can determine the extent of the illness. The main symptoms of leprosy are skin lesions, numbness, and disfiguration. The symptoms are not obvious, and they slowly develop over many years. The main treatment of leprosy is using antibiotics, and treatment is often started right away. The main antibiotics used for patients are Dapsone, Rifampin, and Clofazimine. The future goal for leprosy is ultimate eradication, and scientists are continuously getting closer to this goal.

The author's comments:

This article was used in my English class, as an informational research paper about infectious diseases.

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