Think Tank

Debunking Myths Associated with Leprosy

Debunking Myths Associated with Leprosy

World Leprosy Eradication Day

Leprosy, a chronic disease that targets the nervous system, is not only one of the oldest recorded diseases in the world but also one of the most misunderstood and stigmatized health conditions. It especially affects the cooler nerves of the body like those of the hands, feet and face, leading to anesthetizing (loss of all feeling and sensation) of those parts of the body. The problem — if not detected and addressed in time — can lead to disfigurement and even amputation of the affected parts.

For centuries, leprosy was believed to be incurable and those affected by it were ostracized by society, fearing the spread and horrific physical damage associated with the disease. In this way, the stigma continued, with new misconceptions being added.

Today, even though, we have a cure for the disease, the cure to the stigma is still being found. On the occasion of World Leprosy Eradication Day (observed on the last Sunday of January every year) let us break free from some popular myths associated with the disease.

Myth: Leprosy is incurable!

Fact: No! Until the 20th century, no cure was discovered. But now there are treatments. Leprosy, if diagnosed early, is completely curable through MDT, i.e., Multi Drug Therapy. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is committed to provide MDT to every country working to eliminate leprosy. In India, MDT is available free of cost in all government healthcare centres.

Myth: Leprosy is a disease of the poor.

Fact: No! Anyone can be affected. The reason that more economically weak people suffer from it is due to their lack of awareness about diagnosis and treatment. The social stigma makes them shunned and even more vulnerable.

Myth: Leprosy is contagious.

Fact: Not entirely. It is not contagious like influenza or the common cold. It is only transmitted through repeated and close contact, where causal bacteria flows from the infected to the healthy person, via droplets from the nose and mouth. So, a casual handshake or sharing a meal (in different plates) is not risky.

Myth: Leprosy causes body parts to fall off.

Fact: No! This is a bizarre statement. The body parts don’t just fall off that way. The disease attacks the cold nerves of the body and leads to the loss of sensitivity in the affected body part. This makes the sufferer more prone to injury and infection in such areas. It is for this reason that, sometimes, amputation becomes unavoidable.

Myth: Leprosy causes permanent disfiguration.

Fact: No! Leprosy does not necessarily lead to disfigurement. If treated in time, the patient can be cured with no major visible signs of the disease, thanks to the advancement in reconstruction surgeries.

Remember, leprosy is just a disease and not a curse. It does not discriminate between the rich and poor. It can affect anyone but it is not incurable. Timely detection and treatment can help ward off the disease.

Early Symptoms of Leprosy

 

Appearance of white patches on the skin, often on the hands, arms, legs, area under the eye or the tissue lining inside the nose

Redness or/and soreness at the site of the patches

Muscle weakness

Feeling of numbness or a tingling sensation (like needle pricks) in the affected area

Skin lesions that last and don’t heal for weeks

Be aware and alert! If anyone around you has these symptoms, please get a diagnosis done immediately.

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