Hansen’s disease also called leprosy, is an infection caused by slow-growing bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. The disease can affect the eyes, skin, nerves, and lining of the nose. The disease can be cured with early diagnosis and treatment.
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Leprosy was once considered a highly contagious disease, but now we know it doesn’t spread easily and treatment is very effective. The nerve damage can cause paralysis, blindness, and crippling of hands/feet.
Signs and Symptoms
For Hansen’s, it can cause skin symptoms such as:
- Growths or nodules on skin
- Discolored patches of skin, that may be numb and look faded
- Appearance of painless ulcers on the soles of feet
- Thick, stiff or dry skin
- Lumps or painless swelling on the face or earlobes
- Loss of eyebrows or eyelashes
Symptoms caused by damage to the nerves are:
- Muscle weakness or paralysis especially in the hands and feet
- Numbness of affected areas
- Enlarged nerves (especially those around the elbow and knee)
- Problems with sight that may lead to blindness
Symptoms caused by the disease in the mucous membranes are:
- Stuffy nose
Hansen’s disease affects the nerves, causing loss of feeling or sensation. Injuries may go undetected when loss of sensation occurs. It is advisable to be cautious since you may not feel the pain that can caution you of injury to your body.
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In cases where the leprosy is left untreated, it may become advanced. At this stage, signs can include:
- Loss of eyebrows
- Disfiguring of the nose
- Shortening of toes and fingers
- Paralysis and crippling of hands and feet
- Chronic non-healing ulcers on the bottoms of the feet
Other complications may sometimes include:
- Burning sensation in skin
- Painful or tender nerves
- Soreness and pain around the affected area
Diagnosis and Treatment
Hansen’s disease can be diagnosed by appearance of patches of skin that may appear lighter or darker than the normal skin. The affected skin areas may be reddish sometimes. You may not feel a light touch or a prick with a needle.
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Your doctor will take a sample of your skin or nerve (biopsy) to check for the bacteria under the microscope. Also, your doctor may also perform tests to rule out other possible skin diseases.
Hansen’s disease is treated with a combination of antibiotics like dapsone with rifampicin, and clofazimine is added for some types of the disease. This method helps thwart the expansion of antibiotic resistance by the bacteria. Treatment usually lasts between one to two years.
If you are treated for Hansen’s disease, it’s vital to:
- Tell your doctor if you experience numbness or a loss of feeling in certain parts of the body or in patches on the skin.
- Take the antibiotics until your doctor says your treatment is complete.
- Tell your doctor if the affected skin patches become red and painful, nerves become painful or swollen, or you develop a fever.
Antibiotics may not be able to reverse nerve damage or physical disfiguration that may have occurred before diagnosis, but it can kill the bacteria that cause leprosy, cure the disease and prevent it from deteriorating.
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