Leprosy is an infectious disease that has been around since ancient times, often surrounded by terrifying and negative stigmas. Leprosy causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and skin areas around the body. Leprosy has been known to Indians since our Vedic times. It was known as Kushtaroga in Sushrutha Samitha, 600BC. It is estimated that around 2 to 3 million people globally are living with leprosy-related disabilities. The number of new cases of leprosy reported globally to the World Health Organization (WHO) External in 2016 was more than 200,000. There are many Myths related to Leprosy. As leprosy is associated with physical disfigurement and lack of the understanding behind its cause, it has instilled the practice of fear and avoidance in many societies since ancient times.
Leprosy myths busted!
- Myth: Leprosy is very contagious.
- Fact: Leprosy is not very contagious as it doesn’t spread unless a person comes into close and repeated contact with nose and mouth droplets from someone with untreated leprosy.
- Myth: Leprosy is no longer a problem.
- Fact: Leprosy still exists in various parts of the world. It is still a problem. Millions of people with leprosy don't undergo the treatment due to various reasons every year. It is the stigma associated with the disease that stops victims from coming forward for the treatment.
- Myth: Leprosy only affects older people.
- Fact: Leprosy doesn’t affect only at old age, even children or people of any age can be victims of leprosy. It is seen that 10% of newly diagnosed people are children. Sometimes, visible symptoms of leprosy only appear later, as it has a long incubation period.
- Myth: Leprosy causes the fingers and toes to fall off.
- Fact: Leprosy doesn’t cause the fingers and toes to “fall off”. The bacteria causing Leprosy attacks the nerves of the fingers and toes which causes them to become numb. Due to which burns and cuts on numb parts of fingers and toes may go unnoticed, which may lead to infection and permanent damage.
- Myth: Leprosy is the result of sin or curse.
- Fact: Leprosy is not the result of sin or curse but it is caused by the slow-growing bacterium Mycobacterium leprae.
- Myth: People who have leprosy need to live in special houses isolated from healthy people.
- Fact: As it doesn’t spread through casual contact such as shaking hands, sitting next to or talking to someone who has the disease, people with Leprosy who are being treated with antibiotics can live a normal life among their family and friends.
- Myth: You can get leprosy when sitting next to someone who has the disease.
- Fact: Leprosy spreads when a person comes into close and repeated contact with nose and mouth droplets from someone with untreated leprosy.
- Myth: Once you catch leprosy, you will die.
- Fact: Leprosy can be treated. It can be cured with antibiotic treatment.
- Myth: Leprosy is contagious until the treatment is completed
- Fact: The treatment may take up to 2 years but a person is not contagious within a few days of starting the treatment with antibiotics.
(Inputs by Dr Mayuri. K.S. MBBS, MD, MIPC, Consultant Microbiologist and Infection Control Officer, SPARSH Hospital Yeshwanthpur)
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