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Facing Leprosy Photographer Jan-Joseph Stok

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Published on Sep 19, 2010

Leprosy or Hansen's disease (HD), named after physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen, is a chronic disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis.Leprosy is primarily a granulomatous disease of the peripheral nerves and mucosa of the upper respiratory tract; skin lesions are the primary external sign. Left untreated, leprosy can be progressive, causing permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. Contrary to folklore, leprosy does not cause body parts to fall off, although they can become numb and/or diseased as a result of the disease.
Leprosy has affected humanity for over 4,000 years, and was well-recognized in the civilizations of ancient China, Egypt, and India. DNA taken from the shrouded remains of a man discovered in a tomb next to the Old City of Jerusalem shows him to be the earliest human proven to have suffered from leprosy.[8] In 1995, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that between 2 and 3 million people were permanently disabled because of leprosy at that time. In the past 20 years, 15 million people worldwide have been cured of leprosy.Although the forced quarantine or segregation of patients is unnecessary in places where adequate treatments are available, many leper colonies still remain around the world in countries such as India (where there are still more than 1,000 leper colonies), China, Romania, Egypt, Nepal, Somalia, Liberia, Vietnam,and Japan. Leprosy was once believed to be highly contagious and sexually transmitted, and was treated with mercury—all of which applied to syphilis which was first described in 1530. It is now thought that many early cases of leprosy could have been syphilis. Leprosy is now known to be neither sexually transmitted nor highly infectious after treatment, as approximately 95% of people are naturally immune and sufferers are no longer infectious after as little as 2 weeks of treatment.
The age-old social stigma, in other words, leprosy stigma[17] associated with the advanced form of leprosy lingers in many areas, and remains a major obstacle to self-reporting and early treatment. Effective treatment for leprosy appeared in the late 1930s with the introduction of dapsone and its derivatives. Leprosy bacilli resistant to dapsone soon evolved and, due to overuse of dapsone, became widespread. It was not until the introduction of multidrug therapy (MDT) in the early 1980s that the disease could be diagnosed and treated successfully within the community.

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