Leprosy: the disease
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae, an acid-fast, rod-shaped bacillus. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract and also the eyes, apart from some other structures. Leprosy has afflicted humanity since time immemorial. It once affected every continent and it has left behind a terrifying image in history and human memory - of mutilation, rejection and exclusion from society.
Leprosy has struck fear into human beings for thousands of years, and was well recognized in the oldest civilizations of China, Egypt and India. A cumulative total of the number of individuals who, over the millennia, have suffered its chronic course of incurable disfigurement and physical disabilities can never be calculated.
Since ancient times, leprosy has been regarded by the community as a contagious, mutilating and incurable disease. There are many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America with a significant number of leprosy cases. It is estimated that there are between one and two million people visibly and irreversibly disabled due to past and present leprosy who require to be cared for by the community in which they live.
When M.leprae was discovered by G.A. Hansen in 1873, it was the first bacterium to be identified as causing disease in man. However, treatment for leprosy only appeared in the late 1940s with the introduction of dapsone, and its derivatives. Leprosy bacilli resistant to dapsone gradually appeared and became widespread.