Leprosy is an infectious disease that affects the skin and nerves and is considered one of the oldest diseases of mankind. In the past, leprosy was called leprosy and surrounded by prejudice, especially by the most religious, who associated the disease with sin.
Nowadays there are still many doubts about leprosy, for that reason, in 2016, the Brazilian Ministry of Health made the month of January official and consolidated the purple color for educational campaigns about the disease, to make the population aware of the myths and truths about it, and of course, emphasize its prevention and treatment.
Because it is transmissible, leprosy still generates prejudice today, however, to be infected, it is necessary to be exposed to the bacteria for a long period.
Transmission is by air, with sneezing or coughing from the infected person, and it can take up to 7 years for symptoms to appear. Another point to note is that only the individual who is not undergoing treatment transmits the disease, but, leprosy has a cure.
Here are some of the main symptoms of leprosy:
- Stains on the body that can be red, white, or brown with loss of sensitivity to heat, cold, touch, and pain;
- Regions of dry skin with no sweat;
- Hair loss on the eyebrows;
- Tingling sensation;
- Swelling of the hands and feet;
- Bleeding and dryness of the nose;
- Fever, swelling, and joint pain.
Types of leprosy
The disease can present mainly 4 clinical forms: indeterminate, tuberculoid, borderline or dimorphic, and virchowian. In therapeutic terms, only 2 types are considered: paucibacillary (with few bacilli) and multibacillary (with many bacilli).
- Undetermined: the initial stage of the disease, with a number of up to five spots of ill-defined contours and without neural involvement.
- Tuberculoid: spots or plaques of up to five lesions, well defined, with a compromised nerve, and neuritis (inflammation of the nerve) may occur.
- Borderline or dimorphic: spots and plaques, above five lesions, with edges that are sometimes well or poorly defined. There is the involvement of two or more nerves, and the occurrence of reactive conditions more frequently.
- Virchowiana: the most widespread form of the disease. There is difficulty in separating normal and damaged skin, which can compromise the nose, kidneys, and male reproductive organs. Neuritis and erythema nodosum (painful nodules) on the skin may occur.
Leprosy can be diagnosed at a doctor's office or outpatient clinic. The doctor examines skin lesions with spots (parts of the skin may not be sensitive) and specific neurological changes (numbness and tingling). It is important to emphasize that all people who live or lived with leprosy patient should be examined.
Both paucibacillary and multibacillary leprosy is treated with antibiotics for 6 to 12 months, depending on their severity. The treatment is provided free of charge by SUS (Brazilian free healthcare system) and the drug must be administered under the supervision of health professionals.
Although there is no specific vaccine for its prevention, the BCG vaccine, normally applied to newborns to prevent tuberculosis, also helps prevent leprosy, since the causative agents of both diseases are similar.
On the other hand, healthy habits, adequate nutrition, and the practice of physical activities also help in the prevention of leprosy.