[ What is Leprosy? ] :: Last
updated 21 Nov 97
Leprosy is a mildly infectious disease caused by a bacteria, Mycobacterium
Leprae. The disease mainly affects the skin and peripheral nerves.
This disease is known since ancient times and fears and myths surrounding
the disease have persisted to the present time. Over the past fifty
years we have made considerable progress in the understanding and
treatment of the desease.
Where is Leprosy found?
disease is prevalent in many of the tropical and subtropical regions
of the world. There may be as many as 15 to 20 million cases of
leprosy world wide. The number of new cases of leprosy in Singapore
is steadily declining and we get about 30 new cases a year.
How is the disease is transmitted?
germs are transmitted by droplets when an infectious leprosy patient
coughs or sneezes as in tuberclosis. Not everyone exposed to the
bacteria develop the disease. Most people have natural immunity
and are completely immune to the infection. A few who have some
or no immunity to leprosy develop clinical disease after an incubation
period varying from 3 to 20 years.
Signs of Leprosy
may present with:-
or more slightly whitish hypopigmented or reddish patches which
may have loss of sensation.
of sensation (numbness) with or without paralysis of fingers, toes,
limbs or legs
nerves which may be painful.
patches which are flat or raised over face and body
are two main types of leprosy:
Where the patient shows no immunity to the germs
Where the patient shows some immunity. Those who have no immunity
develop multi-bacillary (many germs) or lepromatous leprosy. Those
who have some immunity develop paucibacillary (few geerms) or tuberculoid
Treatment of Leprosy
is curable. We now have effective drugs to treat the disease. The
paucibacillary leprosy is treated with two drugs (Rifampicin and
Dapsone) for 6 months. Multibacillary disease is treated with 3
dugs (Rifampicin, Dapsone and Clofazimide or Ethionamide) for 24
months or more. Rifampicin rapidly kills the bacteria within days
so that patients on treatment rapidly become non infectious, although
the body take some time to clear the dead germs. New and effective
drugs like Oflozacin, Minocin and Clarithromycine are being introduced
and may further shorten the length of treatment. Early treatment
can prevent defomities from nerve damage.
Where is Leprosy treated?
patients are treated as out-patients at the National Skin Centre
In Mandalay Road. Those who develop foot-ulcers or other medical
complications that need admission are treated in the Communicable
Disease Centre, Moulmein Road.
Rehabilitation in Leprosy
damage may be prevented if the disease is treated early. patients
have to be taught to protect their limbs from injuries like burns
or scalds id they have sessory loss. Reconstruction surgery like
tendon transfers can restore motor function to paralysed limbs.
The community should accept these patients and support them in every