World Leprosy Day! It is observed on the last Sunday of January every year. Raoul Follereau was a French philanthropist and a writer who initiated it in 1954. It was done as a way to help raise awareness of the ancient deadly disease. Raoul wanted to bring focus on the fact that it was a treatable type of cancer. And it can be cured or even prevented.
On this day, every year, organizations and NGOs organize educational events for the public. They teach them about the disease and the preventive measures that they could take. Doctors and medical professionals are encouraged to talk about it to end the taboo.
Some organizations also hold rallies and marathons to help raise money. The financial aid is donated to organizations that do research in the area. The money also helps to rehabilitate those affected by leprosy. Organized seminars help answer questions and concerns that people may have about leprosy.
Leprosy in India
In India, World Leprosy Day is celebrated on the 30th of January. The date coincides with the death of Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi is also called the ‘Father of the Nation.’ He led the revolution against the British that forced them to leave India. He was also vocal about leprosy and helped those affected by it.
What is Leprosy?
Leprosy is an infectious disease. It causes skin sores that are often disfiguring and severe in nature. It can also cause nerve damage in the legs, arms, and other skin areas in the body. The disease is still prevalent from a long time. Surrounded by negative stigmas, patients are often shunned from the community. Hence, World Leprosy Day aims to spread awareness on it.
Leprosy has affected people from all the continents. People of Egypt, India, and China often feared that leprosy was incurable, contagious, and mutilating. These misunderstood factors caused people to fear the disease. And also those people are already affected by it believed the same.
The fact tells us that leprosy is not that contagious. Only those who are in close touch to the infected person may get it. Mouth and nose droplets from infected people could also pass it on to those who never had it. Children are more prone to getting leprosy than adults are.
According to the World Health Organization, most of the people who have leprosy are from India or Africa.
Causes of Leprosy
Leprosy is a bacterial infection. The bacteria are called Mycobacterium leprae (M.leprae). Leprosy disease is also called Hansen’s disease. The scientist discovered the infection in 1873. And it has been named after him.
Symptoms of Leprosy
Leprosy mainly affects the skin and nerves outside the spinal cord and the brain. It is called peripheral nerves. In some cases, it also strikes the eyes and thin tissue lining that exists inside the nose. One of the main symptoms of leprosy is bumps, lumps, and disfiguring skin sores.
The sores, lumps, or bumps may not go away even after several weeks or months. The sores may be pale in color. The nerve damage can lead to muscle weakness or loss of feeling in the legs and arms. It may take 3 to 5 years for the symptoms to show up after coming in contact with the bacteria.
Some people may not experience any symptoms until 20 or more years. The time between contracting the infection and the time when symptoms show up is called the incubation period. The incubation period makes it very difficult to determine where and when leprosy got infected.
How is Leprosy Diagnosed?
If you have a suspicious skin sore, your doctor may remove a small sample of the skin. Hence, it is sent to a lab for examination. This is also called a skin biopsy. A smear test also helps to identify the condition. It is one of the best ways to find bacteria and diagnose the issue.
How is Leprosy Treated?
Leprosy is a curable disease. If we take a look at the last two decades, over 16 million people have been successfully cured. Many people are unaware that the World Health Organization provides free treatment to those who suffer from leprosy.
The treatment varies from one person to another. Leprosy is of different types, hence the treatment varies. Antibiotics help to treat the infection. Long-term treatments continue for six months or even a year. Generally, a combination of two or more antibiotics is prescribed. But it mostly depends upon the types of cases. However, one should know that antibiotics cannot treat nerve damage.
To control the nerve pain, anti-inflammatory drugs may be used. It also helps to control the damage that leprosy caused.
Advice to Patients
There is a long duration between contracting the infection and the symptoms showing up. Hence, this makes it hard to get diagnosed on time. However, it is important to start the treatment as soon as you can. The sooner it is, the easier it will be to control the nerve damage.
World Leprosy Day helps people understand the infection instead of shunning those who have it. Awareness is the best chance we have against the myths and the taboo subjects.