Leprosy is a chronic bacterial disease that affects the skin, nerves in the hands and feet, and in some cases, the lining of the nose. Leprosy is a rare disease in the United States. In 1999, there were 9 cases reported among New York City residents (rate of 0.1 cases per 100,000 persons).
Anyone can get leprosy, but children seem to be more susceptible than adults.
It is not clear how the leprosy germ is spread, but household and prolonged close contact is important. The germs probably enter the body through the nose, and possibly through broken skin. The germs get in the air through the nasal discharge of untreated lepromatous patients.
There are two types of leprosy: tuberculoid and lepromatous. Patients with tuberculoid leprosy symptoms have a few well-defined lesions that are usually numb. Symptoms of lepromatous leprosy include a chronically stuffy nose and multiple skin lesions and nodules.
It usually takes about four years for tuberculoid leprosy symptoms to appear and about eight years for lepromatous leprosy symptoms to appear.
In most cases, persons are no longer contagious after about three months of medical treatment.
There are two to three medicines (rifampin, dapsone, clofazamine) that have to be taken once a month for at least two years for patients with lepromatous leprosy. For tuberculoid leprosy, two medicines (rifampin and dapsone) should be taken once a month for six months.
The best way to prevent the spread of leprosy is early diagnosis and treatment of people who are infected. For household contacts, immediate and annual examination for at least five years after last contact with a person who is infectious, is recommended.
Last Updated October 2000