Signs And Symptoms Of Leprosy Disease: Causes And Treatment

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by mycobacterium leprae. It is a systemic disease, but symptom manifestations are more apparent in skin and peripheral nerves. Additionally, in some patients other organs such as nose, eyes, mouth, testes, muscles, joints, and bone may be involved. Clinically it causes disfiguring ulcers and damage to the nerves leading to loss of sensation in limbs and affected area.

The disease is of great antiquity, as description of leprosy is available in ancient literature. Leprosy was considered to be a curse and incurable disease by old civilizations of India and China.

However after the isolation of the bacteria and invention of curative drugs few centuries ago, people’s view has changed. With introduction of multidrug therapy (MDT), the rate of its prevalence has shown sharp decline.

What Causes Leprosy To Spread?

Leprosy is caused by a bacterium called mycobacterium leprae. The organism was discovered in 1873 by scientist named Hansen. It is therefore also called Hansen’s disease. It is the only bacterium which involves peripheral nerves (nerves innervating skin and other structures). Man is the only host and reservoir of the organism. Transmission thus takes place between an infected patient to another person through droplets from nose and mouth or through the skin.

Untreated patient with extensive disease are infectious, they predominantly spread the disease. The organism escapes through the nasal and oral droplets or from the ulcerated skin which increases the susceptibility of its spread. Organism enters in a healthy person through close and repeated contact with an infected person. It can enter via small skin tears or more likely through droplets released from nasal and oral mucosa. Children are more likely to contract the germs.

After entering into the body, the organisms may take 2 to 5 years for manifesting the disease. It may even take 20 years for producing the symptoms. The outcome depends on the resistance of the host. Most persons are able to overcome the infection and stay healthy. Only few people whose immune response is low get infected.

Though the disease was far more prevalent few decades ago, currently it is estimated that the number has reduced worldwide. Over two thirds of patients are in south East Asia. In USA the number of people diagnosed with this condition is very less.

Different Types And Symptoms Of Leprosy

Leprosy primarily involves the skin and peripheral nerves. The main clinical features are loss of sensation in legs and arms. Over a period of time, chronic non healing ulcers develop. Patients without treatment for a long time may have disfigurement of nose, fingers and toes.

The disease takes many years to produce symptoms after the entry of germs. Large majority of population in endemic area overcome the infection as their immunity resists the infection. A small proportion of people may be infected. They include people who come in contact repeatedly with an untreated patient. There are different forms of leprosy. Symptoms depend on various forms.

Indeterminate form: It is the early stage of leprosy.

  • Area of numbness on the skin.
  • Pale patch on the skin with numbness.
  • Numbness and pale patch is present in outer aspect of limbs, buttocks and face.

Tuberculoid form: It is a mild form of leprosy. It is less contagious. This type develops in those who have good immunity.

  • The disease is localized to one part of the body with 1 to 3 pale patches on skin, usually large and well defined. Sometimes the lesions may be red and raised.
  • The patches are dry due to decreased sweating with loss of hair.
  • Loss of feeling in the skin patch.
  • The affected nerve become thick and can be palpated.
  • Due to damage to nerve, patient may have paralysis of the affected part such as claw hand or foot drop.

Lepromatous Variety: It is a severe form of disease. It occurs in patients having low cell mediated immunity. The involvement is widespread and affects skin, nerves and body organs.

  • Rashes and nodes on skin. Rashes and nodes are spread all over the body sparing warm areas such as groin, armpit, back of the knee, and middle of the trunk.
  • The skin appears to coppery especially on face and trunk.
  • Thick skin especially on ears, over the eyes, cheeks and chin and on the outer aspect of forearm and leg.
  • Numbness and weakness in the muscles.
  • Involvement of eyes, nose, liver, and kidney.
  • Kidney and liver function may get damaged.
  • Testes are affected leading to infertility and loss of libido.
  • Bone destruction leading to disfigured fingers, toes and nose in patients who are untreated for long duration.

Borderline Variety: The symptoms of this form are between the two poles. It includes symptoms of tuberculoid and lepromatous form.

Treatment And Home Remedies For Leprosy

Leprosy is completely curable condition. Management of leprosy is focused on killing the causative organism –mycobacterium leprae. Multi drug therapy is extremely effective in treating the condition. A combination of 2 or 3 antibacterial drugs such as Dapsone, rifampicin, clofazamine kills the organism and makes the patient non infectious.

Patient is educated to cope up with the nerve damage. He is also educated to reduce the incidence of trauma in the extremities as this may lead to deformity due to formation of sores and non healing ulcers.

Surgery may be required to improve cosmetic appearance of the disfigured part such as fingers, nose, toes etc. It is performed after the antibacterial medicines have completely eradicated the germs.

Home remedies:

There are few home remedies that are found effective in alleviating the symptoms of leprosy. However, they should be used as complementary to the main line conventional medicines.

  • Azadirachta indica (Neem) leaves are useful as they have antiseptic properties which help in killing the bacteria which cause leprosy. A paste prepared by crushing the leaves and applying it on the skin lesions will improve tone and texture of the skin. Applying it over the ulcerated area will help in healing process. Boil few leaves in water. Add this concoction in water of the bath tub. Soak your body for 15 minutes. It provides relief in skin ailments.
  • Apply paste prepared from rhizomes on the ulcers. It enhances the healing process.
  • Hydrocotyle is time tested natural remedy for treating leprosy. Apply its lotion locally over the area of affliction. Sponge of hydrocotyle lotion on ulcers of leprosy is useful to kill the germs. It also reduces skin inflammation and pale patches.