WANTED: Leprosy

Pathogens: Mycobacterium leprae, Mycobacterium lepromatosis

Mug Shot

Mycobacterium leprae


Leprosy attacks the Integumentary system and the Nervous system. This includes one's skin, nerves, and the areas around one's bodily openings called mucous membranes. The Immune systems of those infected respond differently depending on the type of leprosy.

Types of Infections

Ridley-Jopling Classification

Intermediate Leprosy: A small amount of flat sores that can heal without any outside assistance, but can also progress to a worse state of infection.

Tuberculoid Leprosy: Sores both small and large are present and nerves are somewhat effected. Large sores tend to be numb. Self-healing is possible, but there is also a chance that the condition will either not go away and just stay at the same state, or worsen.

Borderline Tuberculoid Leprosy: Sores smaller and in greater numbers than those in tuberculoid leprosy, and a lesser effect on the nervous system. Condition can remain the same, lessen to tuberculoid, or worsen.

Mid-Borderline Leprosy: Red-colored swollen areas, somewhat numb, gland swelling. Condition can become less severe, stay the same, or worsen.

Borderline Lepromatous Leprosy: Lots of varying sores with occasional numbness. Same pattern of change in condition with chance of regression, persistence, or progression.

Lepromatous Leprosy: Lots of sores with pathogens present. Nerves are effected, hair may fall out, fatigue is common, and so is dementation of the body. In the case of lepromatous leprosy, there is no chance of regression of the condition.

World Health Organization Classification

Paucibacillary Leprosy: 5 or less sores are present and when a sample of skin is taken, the pathogen is not detected.

Multibacillary Leprosy: More than 5 sores are present or the pathogen is detected in a skin sample. The infection is also classified as multibacillary when both of the aforementioned conditions are true.


Leprosy is not very contagious at all, but when it is transmitted, it is typically passed from person to person. Repeated contact with someone who has leprosy or with bodily fluids like mucus excreted by infected people who cough or sneeze. If these fluids are inhaled and they contain the pathogen, a person has a chance of contracting the disease.

More recently, there have been cases in Florida of people contracting leprosy after coming into contact with armadillos. Both humans and armadillos can carry and transmit the same strain of Mycobacterium leprae.

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The only known organisms to transmit leprosy are humans and armadillos.

Children are more likely to acquire leprosy than adults, and men are more likely to acquire leprosy than women. Dense populations and tight living conditions, along with malnutrition and bad sanitary conditions can increase the chance of leprosy infections.


The Symptoms

  • Sores and growths on skin
  • Rough skin
  • Extreme pain
  • Loss of feeling
  • Fatigue and potential paralysis, most common in opposable appendages
  • Potential blindness
  • Swelling of nerves
  • Nose clogged with mucus
  • Nosebleeds
  • Holes in the bottom of feet

Armed and Dangerous?

Leprosy can be very damaging, both directly and indirectly. It can cause tremendous pain, sores, hair loss, blindness, and other deformations that may never heal. Indirectly, the loss of feeling that often results from leprosy can lead to an unawareness of injury, and often people will get other infections in areas like fingers and toes that can escalate to the point that they require amputation. This is why many people with leprosy lack fingers and toes. It is not because the disease actually itself actually causes parts of their bodies to fall off. Many people with leprosy, about 2 million worldwide, are left disabled due to the effects of leprosy. All the same, Mycobacterium leprae reproduces very slowly, which not only results in very slow population growth, but also means that it takes quite some time to display itself in someone who is infected, sometimes up to 20 years.

Hide Out

The pathogens, Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis, are often found in and on the skin near sores, in the fluid from sores, and in the mucous membranes of the nose and eyes. This is true, at least, in the case of lepromatous leprosy, which also happens to be the most severe type of the disease. Conversely, in the most mild type of the disease, tuberculoid leprosy, it is very near impossible to locate the pathogens.

On a world scale leprosy is most common in tropical and subtropical areas. The majority of people in the U.S. faces no real threat of leprosy, but people in places like Florida, Louisiana, and Texas may be at risk due to the potential for contraction of leprosy from armadillos.

In places like India and other third-world countries in tropical and subtropical areas, people are at a higher risk of contracting leprosy due to the dense populations of such places and the general lack of sufficient healthcare.

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In one study in the Philippines, the mortality rate of people with leprosy was observed to be four times the mortality rate of people without leprosy. Often times, the mortality rate of leprosy is not something that people really care about due to how uncommon the disease is.

Defense, Prevention, Treatment, and Cure

The best way to avoid contracting leprosy is to stay away from people who have the disease and to stay away from armadillos. Since it is not very contagious to begin with, taking these extra precautions makes one's chance of contracting the disease even smaller.

There are no vaccines for leprosy, but there are antibiotics that are used to kill the pathogen that causes it, such as dapsone, rifampin, and minocycline. More often than not, multiple antibiotics are prescribed to fight the pathogen. The treatment process can take up to 6 months, but if a patient follows doctors orders, he or she will likely be cured of the disease after treatment is done. Though it can be treated, 95% of adults are naturally immune to the disease.

Charlie Peterson

Mrs. Salemme

Honors Biology II

17 March 2016