Leprosy (Hansen's Disease)

Hansen's disease (HD), more commonly known as leprosy, is a chronic ailment attributed to bacteria Mycobacterium lepromatosis and Mycobacterium leprae. The scientific term of leprosy has been derived from the name of the Norwegian physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen. In effect, leprosy is basically a granulomatous (a seditious growth comprising of granulation tissue) ailment of the peripheral nerves as well as mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, wherein the lesions on the skin are the initial external signs of this disease.

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If leprosy is not treated timely, it may prove to be progressive, resulting in lasting harm to the skin, limbs, eyes as well as the nerves. In contradiction of the traditional stories, while leprosy or Hansen's disease does not result in the body falling off, the affected parts may become insensitive or ailing owing to secondary contagions.

These happen owing to the defenses of the body being weakened by the basic ailment. On their part, the secondary infections may cause loss of tissues resulting in the fingers as well as toes to turn out to be reduced and distorted, since the cartilage is taken into the body.

While scientists are yet to find out the manner in which Hansen's disease is transmitted, several researchers are of the belief that the bacterium M. leprae is generally transmitted from one individual to another in respiratory droplets. Researches have revealed that armadillos may be responsible for transmitting this chronic disease.

Now it has been clear that leprosy is neither transmitted sexually nor extremely contagious when a person undergoes appropriate treatment. About 95 per cent of individuals are physically immune to leprosy and do not suffer from the infections after they undergo treatment for just two weeks.

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Depending on the highly sporadic occurrence of leprosy or Hansen's disease among young infants, the least time required for incubation of this bacterium is said to be only a few weeks. On the other hand, the utmost period of incubation has been reported to be about 30 years or even more.

The maximum period of incubation of the bacterium is dependent on the observations made on affected war veterans who have been exposed to it in epidemic regions for brief periods, but generally residing in non-epidemic regions. Nevertheless, it has been by and large agreed that the incubation period of the bacterium is something involving three and five years.

Hansen's disease or leprosy develops at a very sluggish pace, often taking six months to as many as 40 years! As the disease develops, it causes skin lacerations and malformation of the body part, generally having an effect on the relatively cool areas of the body, for instance, the eyes, earlobes, nose, testicles, hands and feet.

In effect, the lesions formed on the skin and the deformities may be extremely mutilating and, in the past, have been the main reason for the infected individuals being considered outcasts in several societies. While the infection is usually transmitted from one human to another, there are three other species which have the ability to carry, but seldom transfer the bacterium M. leprae to humans - mangabey monkeys, chimpanzees and the armadillos, which have nine arms.

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Leprosy is defines as a chronic granulomatous disease, which is akin to tuberculosis (TB), since it generates inflammatory nodules, also known as granulomas, in the skin as well as the nerves over a period of time.

It is really unfortunate that the initial signs and symptoms of Hansen's disease or leprosy are extremely restrained and take place very sluggishly, often taking several years. The symptoms of this disease are comparable to those that take place in the case of tetanus, syphilis and leptospirosis.

Some of the initial symptoms of this disease include lack of sensation as well as absence of sensation to experience temperature - in fact, the patients do not have any sensation to extremely hot or cold temperatures. With the advancement of the malady, patients have a decreased sensation of or completely lose the feeling of touch, subsequently, pain, and finally, deep pressure.

With the progress of leprosy, several signs occur on the patient, including skin lesions of hypopigmented macules (even, whitish areas on the skin surface); somewhat painless ulcers, and eye damage, such as lessened blinking and dryness. The patients experience these symptoms/ signs prior to the occurrence of big ulcerations, facial deformity and loss of digits. Such enduring series of events commence and continue of the relatively cool areas of the body, such as face, hands, feet and knees.

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It may be noted that people suffering from leprosy experience headaches, nose bleed, pain, fever, deformities, fractured bones, loss of extremities, such as fingers and toes, harm to the skin, eye, the upper respiratory tract and also nerve damage. In addition, patients affected by Mycobacterium leprae have a very poor sensitivity to temperature, for instance, extreme hot and cold, and touch. They also experience debility of the muscles, lack of sensation in the hands, feet, arms and legs. Gradually, the eyelashes as well as eyebrows of leprosy patients wither away.

As described in medical texts, there are several types of leprosy. These different types of leprosy are dependent of the immune response of the patient to M. leprae. An excellent immune response is able to generate the supposed tuberculoid form of leprosy, wherein the patients experience less or restricted skin lesions and a few asymmetric or irregular involvements of the nerves.

On the other hand, a patient having a weak response may result in the lepromatous form of leprosy, which is marked by widespread skin and symmetric or proportionate involvement of the nerves. It is interesting to know that a number of leprosy patients may possess features of both types of leprosy.

Presently, there are two categorization systems in the medical literature - the World Health Organization (WHO) system and the Ridley-Jopling system. The Ridley-Jopling system again comprises of six different types or categorizations of leprosy. These types are discussed below in accordance with the increasing brutality of the symptoms of the disease.

It is important to note that most of the incidences of leprosy or Hansen's disease, especially those clinically diagnosed, are generally healed with antibiotics.

Indeterminate leprosy

Patients enduring this form or classification of Hansen's disease experience some hypopigmented macules. This form of leprosy may cure by itself, continue or progress into other different forms of the disease.

Tuberculoid leprosy

People having this form of the disease experience few hypopigmented macules, some of which may be large, while others turn anesthetic - in this case, the patients do not have the sensation of pain. In tuberculoid leprosy there are some involvements of the nerves, wherein the nerves are often engorged. This form of the disease heals on its own within a few years time, may continue or also progress into other classifications of Hansen's disease.

Borderline tuberculoid leprosy

Patients suffering from this type of Hansen's disease have lesions similar to those enduring tuberculoid leprosy. However, these lesions are comparatively small in size, numerous having a smaller amount nerve enlargement. This type of leprosy may continue, go back to tuberculoid leprosy or progress to any other classifications of leprosy.

Mid-borderline leprosy

People enduring this form of leprosy are likely to have several plaques that are reddish and irregularly distributed. These patients experience reasonable lack of sensation and have adenopathy (distended lymph nodes) in specific parts of the body. Mid-borderline leprosy may continue, or revert to any other form of the disease.

Borderline lepromatous leprosy

Patients with this form of Hansen's disease will have several skin lesions in the midst of papules (elevated bumps), macules (horizontal lesions), nodules and plaques, occasionally accompanied with or with no anesthesia (insensitive to pain). This form of leprosy many carry on, revert to or advance to lepromatous leprosy.

Lepromatous leprosy

The lesions that develop in the initial stages of this form of leprosy are light-hued macules (horizontal or even areas on the skin) that are spread as well as regular, but afterward several M. leprae microorganisms may be found in them. Such patients experience hair loss (alopecia), while they usually do not have eyebrows or eyelashes.

In addition, advancement of this form of leprosy also results in tissue death owing to absence of blood supply to the area (aseptic necrosis); mutilation of several body areas, counting the face, and formation of nodules on the skin surface (lepromas). This form of Hansen's disease never reverts to any other lesser harsh types of the disease.

A clinical variant of lepromatous leprosy, known as histoid leprosy, is usually accompanied with collections of histiocytes (a form of cell implicated in the inflammatory response) as well as a grenz zone (an area of collagen dividing the lesion from the regular tissues) and are often seen in minuscule tissue sections.

Supplements and herbs

A number of herbs and supplements have been found to be effective in treating the symptoms of Hansen's disease or leprosy. For instance, you may prepare a paste using chalmoogra oil (a salve) blended with lime juice and apply it to the affected skin with a view to facilitate getting rid of a variety of skin inflammations as well as ulcers formed all over the body.

In addition, chaulmoogra oil is effective in avoiding developing leprosy. In order to prevent leprosy, prepare a paste using chaulmoogra oil and lemon juice and apply it on the areas affected by the disease. This blend is sure to be beneficial to the patient and help him/ her to ease pain and inflammation caused by the disease. Moreover, the blend of chaulmoogra oil and lemon juice also cools the skin.

Another herb that is effective in treating leprosy or Hansen's disease is gotu kola, which is used in various forms. Gotu kola is mainly available in the form of an extract, which may be included in tea and drunk. In addition, gotu kola may also be applied topically to the affected areas of the body in the form of a bandage soaked into the liquefied herb.

Apart from the extract, gotu kola is also available in powder and ointment forms and both these forms of the herb may be used topically in several methods. This herb can also be employed to treat inflammations and leprous wounds. The herbal form of gotu kola is consumed with rice.

Neem (Azadirachta indica) is another herb that is highly effective for treating leprosy. The herb possesses anti-inflammatory as well as anti-septic attributes and is extremely useful in providing relief from inflammation of the tissues. For best results, prepare a paste of neem leaves and apply it to the affected areas on the skin for healing skin problems. In addition, neem leaves may also be used in your bath, as it will impart freshness. Using neem leaves in your bath will also help to keep infectious bacteria away from you.

A rare therapeutic herb, Babchi (Psoralia corylifolia) is also an important remedy for leprosy or Hansen's disease as well as other medical conditions of the skin.

As is well known, turmeric is a natural antiseptic as well as an antibiotic. People have been extensively using this herb from the ancient times in the form of an herbal ointment to cure all things ranging from insignificant cuts and scratches to ulceration of the skin, scabies and also leprosy or Hansen's disease.


In addition to using herbs and supplements, leprosy or Hansen's disease may also be cured with aromatherapy. For treating this disease with aromatherapy, it is recommended that you use cedar essential oil or pennyroyal essential oil.

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