World Leprosy Day is observed on the last Sunday of January every year to spread awareness about the disease.
Leprosy is an infection caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. The bacteria grows at a plodding pace, and it can take over 20 years for the affected individual to develop signs of the infection.
The Mycobacterium leprae bacteria affects the nerves, skin, eyes, and lining of the nose. When the bacteria attacks the nerves of an affected individual, they swell up and cause the affected area to lose the ability to sense touch and pain. If left untreated, the nerve damage can lead to permanent damage such as paralysis.
Leprosy is an age-old disease that was even documented in several historic books. During ancient times, due to the lack of medical advancements, it was feared to be a highly contagious and devastating disease. People afflicted with the disease were often ostracized by their communities and families.
Medical advancements have made leprosy a curable disease. However, the fear and the stigma of leprosy are still very much prevalent. The stigma and the history of this disease have caused a spread of misinformation and misconceptions. So we at TABIIB would like to look at some of the most common myths and facts about the disease.
Myth 1: Leprosy Is Very Contagious
No, leprosy is not highly contagious. Research shows that it’s in fact quite difficult to catch the disease from someone else. More than 95% of adults are known to have an immune system that can fight off the bacteria that causes the disease. So in most cases, a person will not catch leprosy through casual social contact.
Myth 2: There Is No Cure For Leprosy
Leprosy is curable with antibiotic treatment. However, the treatment may take longer than 6 months to cure an individual. As per research when an individual starts the required antibiotics, he or she will become non-contagious within a few days. The antibiotics will kill most of the bacteria and the remaining ones won’t be enough to spread contagiously.
Myth 3: People Who Contact Leprosy Need To Be Isolated Entirely
No! Leprosy is not a bacterial infection that requires doctors to isolate patients entirely. People suffering from this condition can lead a normal life once they start their antibiotic treatment. Under a doctor’s supervision, patients can also go to work or attend school and college.
Myth 4: Only Old People Are Affected By Leprosy
Leprosy can affect anyone at any age as it is not an age-related disease. This misconception arises from the fact that many people show signs and symptoms years after getting infected. There are several recorded cases in which an individual contracted the bacteria during adulthood but showed no signs until old age.
Myth 5: Leprosy Cause Fingers And Toes To Fall Off
Leprosy doesn’t cause fingers and toes to fall off. The bacteria that causes the disease attacks the nerves of the fingers and toes, causing them to become numb. Burns, cuts, or any damage on the numb parts may go unnoticed and lead to permanent damage. However, it’s important to remember that this happens only in the advanced stages of the disease.
What To Do On World Leprosy Day
- Educate yourself about the disease and then educate your loved ones
- Depict a positive image about the disease and help break the stigma around it
- Increase awareness about the disease amongst your community
- If needed, support people who suffer from the illness and ensure that they get the proper medical treatment needed
There is a lot of misconception and stigma around this disease. The stigma around the illness can affect the psychological well being of patients and their families. So during world leprosy day, increase the public understanding of the disease and help tackle the social stigma.