Leprosy in India

As we are clowning in leprosy clinics we were informed you can’t contract the disease through touch, it is through the nasal fluids that you catch it.  I found that interesting.  Below is some information about leprosy contraction and below that leprosy in India.


Leprosy (Hansen’s disease) is a chronic infection caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. It results in damage primarily to the peripheral nerves (the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord), skin, testes, eyes, and mucous membranes of the nose.

  • Leprosy ranges from mild (with one or a few skin areas affected) to severe (with many skin areas affected and damage to many organs).
  • Rashes and bumps appear, the affected areas become numb, and muscles may become weak.
  • The diagnosis is suggested by symptoms and confirmed by a biopsy of the affected tissue.
  • Antibiotics can stop leprosy from progressing but cannot reverse any nerve damage or deformity.

Because without treatment, people with leprosy are visibly disfigured and often have significant disability, they have long been feared and shunned by others. Although leprosy is not highly contagious, rarely causes death, and can be effectively treated with antibiotics, it still causes anxiety. As a result, people with leprosy and their family members often have psychologic and social problems.

During 2007, over 250,000 new cases were reported. About 90% of these cases occurred in the following eight countries (listed from the most cases to the least): India, Brazil, Indonesia, Congo, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Nepal, and Ethiopia. In 2006, 137 new cases were reported in the United States. Cases occurred in 30 states, but over half occurred in six states: California, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas. Almost all cases of leprosy in the United States involve people who emigrated from developing countries.

Leprosy can develop at any age but appears to develop most often in people aged 5 to 15 years or over 30.

How leprosy is spread is unclear. However, it may be passed from person to person through droplets expelled from the nose and mouth of an infected person and breathed in or touched by an uninfected person. But even after contact with the bacteria, most people do not contract leprosy. About half of the people with leprosy probably contracted it through close, long-term contact with an infected person. Casual and short-term contact does not seem to spread the disease. Leprosy cannot be contracted by simply touching someone with the disease, as is commonly believed. Health care workers often work for many years with people who have leprosy without contracting the disease.


Courtesy of Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leprosy_in_India

Leprosy in India

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Leprosy currently affects approximately a quarter of a million people throughout the world, with 70% of these cases occurring in India.[1] Cases of leprosy in India have decreased dramatically from 5,000,000 cases in 1985 to 213,000 cases in 2009. This significant decrease is largely due to the effectiveness of multi-drug therapy (MDT) that was developed in 1981. The prevalence of leprosy in India is now less than 1 case in 10,000 individuals, meeting the World Health Organization (WHO) criteria for leprosy elimination. Yet the WHO criterion for elimination is not met in all areas of the country; rural areas and urban slums continue to experience up to five times the number of leprosy cases as the national average.[2]


Transmission, treatment and disability

Leprosy is one of the least infectious diseases mainly because nearly all of the population have natural immunity against it.[3] Nevertheless, stigma against the disease due to its disfiguring effects causes its victims to be isolated and shunned. Leprosy is also the leading cause of permanent disability in the world and is primarily a disease of the poor.

The disease is now readily treatable with multi-drug therapy, which combines three drugs to kill the pathogen and cure the patient.[4] If MDT is used in the early stages of infection, disability and disfigurement can be avoided. Unfortunately, even with these facts, individuals with leprosy are still shunned, isolated, and stigmatized so that the fear of leprosy is worse than the disease itself.[5]


India is considered the point of origin of leprosy with skeletal evidence of the disease dating to 2000 B.C.[6] the disease is thought to have spread through trade and war to other parts of Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and later Europe and the Americas. In ancient Indian society, individuals suffering from leprosy were alienated because the disease was chronic, contagious, resulted in disfigurement, had no cure at the time, and was associated with sin.[7] In colonial India, the government enacted the Leprosy Act of 1898, which institutionalized leprosy victims and separated them based on gender to prevent reproduction. These laws mainly affected the poor because those who were self-sufficient were not obligated to be isolated or seek medical treatment. In the 20th century, even when drugs to treat leprosy became available and more knowledge was gained about the disease, the scourge of leprosy remains a persistent and widespread health problem throughout all regions of the country.

Legal discrimination

The historical legacy and societal stigma toward leprosy are evidenced by various laws containing discriminatory clauses against leprosy victims. Laws in the states of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Orissa prohibit leprosy patients from running in local elections.[8] These laws have been supported by the national government, as evidenced when India’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the state of Orissa prohibiting leprosy patients from participating in local elections.

Other laws include the Motor Vehicle Act of 1939 which restricts leprosy patients from obtaining a driving license and the Indian Rail Act of 1990 which prohibits leprosy patients from traveling by train.[9]

Many of these laws were written before the development of multi-drug therapy (MDT) and they have not been updated since. For example, almost all of the marriage and divorce laws of India consider leprosy as grounds for divorce with the Special Marriage Act of 1954 declaring leprosy “incurable.” These laws do not reflect the current understanding of leprosy.

Mohandas Gandhi

“Gentleness, self-sacrifice and generosity are the exclusive possession of no one race or religion.”


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