Integumentary System

What is Leprosy?

Leprosy is a disease of the skin that can cause sores on the skin, nerve damage, and muscle weakness. Over time it progressively gets worse. Leprosy has been around for thousands of years affecting all continents. In the 1800's there were huge outbreaks of Leprosy in Hawaii. The people who had Leprosy (called lepers) were sent to the Kalaupapa peninsula off of the island of Molokai. These people formed a Leper Colony in 1866 that was under mandatory isolation. Father Damien of Beligum came to the island to help treat and care for the lepers, who were looked upon as outsiders. He died in 1889 of Leprosy, but was later canonized a saint by the Catholic Church. The ban of isolation was eventually lifted in 1969.


Leprosy is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. This bacterium cannot live outside its host which is why is it a hard disease to study because it cannot be grown in a laboratory. Mice and armadillos are the animals used to test this bacterium in the laboratory, since armadillos are the only other animal that contracts this disease naturally. Another reason it is hard to study is because the bacterium multiplies so slowly.

The bacterium Mycobacterium leprae bind to receptors on the neural Schwann cells. This causes the Schwann cells not to produce myelin sheaths, which is insulation to axons of neurons. This is what causes loss of feeling and numbness to the skin when infected with Leprosy.

Risk Factors

-Children are more likely to get Leprosy than adults

-Open cuts or sores

-Not for sure how this bacterium spreads, but not very contagious

Signs and Symptoms

-Skin lesions

-Nodules or macules may be present

-Numbness around the skin

-Muscle loss or weakness

-When given a skin smear, tested positive for the bacterium

*Can take anywhere from 6 months to 40 years for symptoms to show up. Usually the average is 4 years.

Diagnosing Leprosy

-Done through skin smears; If test comes back positive then you have Leprosy

-Also diagnosed by symptoms


-Leprosy is a curable disease if treated with MDT

-Prognosis depends on when diagnosed and severity of symptoms

-Very rarely is Leprosy fatal


-There are drugs that if taken can help treat Leprosy; Dapsone and Rifampicin

-Using MDT (Multi-drug Therapy)


There have been three new drugs that are being worked on to treat Leprosy;ofloxacin-a fluoroquinolone, clarithromycin-a macrolide and minocycline -a tetracycline. These drugs have proven to be useful against the strains of the bacterium that are resistant to the currently used treatments.