Mumbai: Leprosy conjures up images of disfigured people and excommunicated colonies when in fact the disease is fact much less extreme and about 95 per cent of humans are naturally immune to it. In other words, only 5 per cent of people in the world is susceptible to the disease. This meagre number is even less likely to contract it as the disease does not spread through touch, contrary to popular belief. Leprosy is extremely unusual among urban populations.
The disease takes a lot more than just a touch to be transmitted. The transmission requires contact with respiratory secretion exchange in order to be completed. Droplets from nose and mouth of the affected person onto the skin or respiratory tract of another person may cause the transmission. In majority of the cases, leprosy does not lead to clinical disease.
It is most concentrated in rural areas and hits the underprivileged hardest, as getting access to basic healthcare facilities is an onerous task. “Leprosy, despite being a deadly disease, is not very popular when it comes to global and national health programs, hence resources are low and awareness even more,” said Dr. Batul Patel of Saifee hospital.
Mumbai’s civic health department said in the last three years, cases of leprosy were reduced by 19 per cent. “In 2014-15 leprosy cases were 565 which reduced to 457 in 2016-17, showing that people are coming forward to get treatment on time. The cases were reduced due to awareness campaigns and proper knowledge regarding leprosy given to the citizens,” said Dr. Padmaja Keskar, Executive Health Officer of BMC.
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She further said the civic health department is also working with six NGOs which are helping in finding out the data of patients who are affected with leprosy and need to get treated immediately. “NGOs are giving a proper counselling to patients and hospitals regarding leprosy and how to diagnose leprosy. As treating leprosy is possible and patient should take medicine regularly which helps to heal fast,” Dr. Keskar said.
Leprosy symptoms are most often not easily detectable. “You will have spots disfiguring skin sores, bumps, or lumps that refuse to go away for several weeks or months. Look for light patches on the dark skin and dark or reddish patches on the light skin. These patches are characterized by loss of feeling. The affected person will not be able to recognize heat, pain, or even touch. The hands and feet get an anesthetized feeling with a dull tingling. The wounds and burns in this area are painless. However, after contact with the bacteria, it often takes about 3 to 5 years for the symptoms to appear. In some cases, it takes 20 years for the symptoms to surface,” a senior doctor said.
In an appeal, Dr Patel said, “Let’s stamp out the stigma attached to this disease by educating ourselves and others about its causes, symptoms, cure, transmission and prevention. Unfortunately, there is no preventive vaccine against leprosy yet. But it can be easily prevented from worsening or spreading with early detection and treatment. The three-drug combination, MTD, is highly effective in combating the disease.”
If it is left untreated, leprosy can bring about permanent damage to the skin, arms, legs, feet, nerves and eyes. It can disfigure the face with swellings, bumps and lumps that stay. “It can also result in kidney failure and blindness or glaucoma. The inside of the nose may be badly and permanently damaged, leading to nosebleeds and a constantly stuffy nose. Male patients may additionally experience erectile dysfunction and infertility,” Dr. Patel added.
Leprosy is easily cured with MDT (multi-drug therapy), which uses three antibiotics, namely Rifampin, Clofazimine, and Dapsone. “Usually, an infected person is declared non-contagious within the first week and becomes more non-infectious after the subsequent dose of treatment. More than 85 per cent of clinical cases are deemed non-infectious,” said a senior doctor of King Edward Memorial Hospital.