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What is leprosy?

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Leprosy is characterized as a lingering infection caused by the Mycobacterium leprae bacteria. It triggers impairment chiefly to the peripheral nerves, testes, skin, eyes and mucous membranes of the throat and nose.

Without treatment, an individual with leprosy can end up visibly deformed and often have significant disability. Even though the condition is not highly transmittable, rarely results to death and can be successfully manage with antibiotics, it has a significant social stigma linked to it even today. As an outcome, an individual with leprosy and their family members often have social and psychological issues.

The condition can develop at any given age but typically develops most often among individuals aged 5-15 years or those over 30. Approximately 95% of individuals who were infected with Mycobacterium leprae do not develop leprosy since the immune system was able to fight off the infection. Those who develop the condition might have genes that makes them prone once exposed.

Leprosy mainly affects the skin and the peripheral nerves. The distinctive rashes and bumps develop that are not itchy.

How leprosy spreads

Leprosy can be passed from one individual to another via droplets released from the nose and mouth. Yet even after exposure to the bacteria, most do not acquire leprosy.

Those with leprosy are likely to contract it via close, prolonged exposure to an infected individual. Remember that brief contact will not spread the disease.

What are the indications?

Since the bacteria that causes leprosy multiples in a very slow rate, the symptoms do not typically start until at least a year after being infected. Generally, the symptoms manifest 5-7 years after infection but can take up to 20-30 years. Once the symptoms start, they progress in a slow manner.

Leprosy mainly affects the skin and the peripheral nerves. The distinctive rashes and bumps develop that are not itchy. The infection of the nerves makes the skin numb.

The specific symptoms tend to vary depending on the type of leprosy:

  • Tuberculoid – rash comprised of one or a few flat, whitish regions with distinct, elevated borders. The areas affected by the rash is numb since the bacteria damages the underlying nerves.
  • Lepromatous – several small-sized bumps or bigger elevated rashes of varying sizes and shape manifest on the skin. There are more areas of numbness and some muscle groups weaken. Other areas are affected such as the nose, kidneys and testes. Among men, the breasts might grow in size and there is loss of eyelashes and eyebrows
  • Borderline – this type has both tuberculoid and lepromatous symptoms. If not treated, this can become less severe and similar to the tuberculoid type or it can worsen and become the lepromatous form.

The severe symptoms occur from infection involving the peripheral nerves which results to deterioration of sense of touch and matching inability to feel pain and temperature. These individuals might unknowingly cut, burn or otherwise harm themselves.


Antibiotics work by stopping the development of the disease but will not cure any nerve damage or deformity. Understandably, early detection and treatment are equally important. Since the bacteria becomes resistant to an antibiotic if used alone, the doctor will prescribe more than one drug.

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