Dear Dr., I want some information about the Leprosy disease. When I go out, I often see beggars who are suffering from Leprosy(skin lesions or deformed fingers and toes). I am concerned whether there is any risk of contracting the disease from them. Please give me detailed information about what is the risk of getting this disease. Also, can this disease be contracted by touching object which could have been contaminated like door handles, etc.? Can it be contracted from the ground or soil?
It is very commendable of you to find out more about this disease. A lot of stigma is associated with the disease and its sufferers. Common public just sees those people as untouchables or a taboo.
It is a bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium leprae. The organism is similar to TB bacteria and so their treatments are also similar and run for months together. But the treatment and drugs are not the same.
The laprosy bacteria produces lesions in skin, mucous membranes, eyes, nerves and tissues. Gradually untreated lesions spread inside and affect nerves causing their swelling and loss of sensation. Slowly the body resorbs the extremities and thats why you see a lot of untreated patients having loss of digits and toes. You might have found a lot of people with saddle nose deformity also.
The transmission of leprosy with what is known occurs after prolonged and close contact with untreated leprosy patients over months. It doesn't spread that easily or fast. You dont contract it from ground or soil. You dont get it if you touch an object touched by a leper. Nor would you get the disease if you hug the patient.
There is very minimal to no risk in contracting the disease from patients who are outside. However, avoid prolonged contact with the patients. Wear a mask always when you are outside, considering the current situation.
Recently there is some evidence suggesting the disease may be spread by droplets, like sneezes or coughs or bodily fluids. But nothing has been concluded. It is best to avoid close personal contact with a patient and wear a mask to prevent droplet infection.
Treatment of the disease involved multidrug therapy for long durations. With adequate therapy the disease is curable. Is there anything else that you would like to know?
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