Mycobacterium Leprae: An In-Depth Guide

Mycobacterium leprae is a bacterium that causes leprosy, a chronic, progressive bacterial infection. It primarily affects the nerves of the hands and feet, skin, nose, and upper respiratory tract.

Mycobacterium Leprae: An In-Depth Guide

Hansen’s disease is another name for leprosy.

What Is Leprosy?

Leprosy is not a disease that spreads easily. It is spread through the air by moisture droplets from someone who has leprosy but has not begun treatment. 

The incubation period which refers to the time between infection and onset of symptoms is lengthy and is about five years on average, but it can range from anywhere between one to twenty years.

In the incubation period, a person with leprosy has no visible signs or symptoms but is infectious.

Any average person can be diagnosed with leprosy, but fortunately, most of us have immune systems that are equipped to prevent it even if we live in a leprosy-infested country.

Leprosy Symptoms

It is unlikely that the disease will cause permanent disability if treated early.

However, if left untreated, it worsens, and the nerve damage spreads. People with leprosy can injure themselves because they lack sensation in their hands and feet.

Furthermore, these injuries can result in infection, ulcers, and permanent disability.

Muscle paralysis caused by leprosy can result in clawed fingers and foot drop. This makes walking and using one’s hands difficult.

The condition can also cause nerve damage in the face, causing eyelid muscles to stop working. Because blinking no longer protects the eyes, they are easily damaged, resulting in sight loss and blindness.

Even when the bacteria are no longer active and treatment is underway, some people have reactions to the leprosy bacteria in their bodies.

These reactions can cause sickness, pain, swelling, and fever. They are difficult to treat, requiring patients to stay in the hospital for extended periods of time.

Delays in diagnosis and treatment can have serious consequences. These are some examples:

  • Disfigurement
  • Hair loss
  • Permanent nerve damage
  • Blindness
  • Infertility
  • Inability to use hands and feet
  • Muscle weakness

Diagnosing Leprosy

A doctor will perform a physical exam to look for disease-related signs and symptoms.

A biopsy will also be performed, in which a piece of nerve or skin will be removed and sent to a laboratory for testing.

A lepromin skin test might also be done by your doctor to find out the type of leprosy. The doctor injects a little bit of inactivated leprosy-causing bacterium usually into the forearm.

Leprosy Treatment

A combination of antibiotics is used to treat leprosy. Typically, two or three antibiotics are used concurrently. These are dapsone and rifampicin, with clofazimine added for certain types of disease.

This is known as multidrug therapy.

This helps to prevent the bacteria from developing antibiotic resistance, which would otherwise occur due to the length of the treatment.

Treatment typically lasts one to two years. If the prescribed treatment is followed, the illness can be cured.

Antibiotics used during the treatment will kill the bacteria responsible for leprosy.

However, while the treatment can cure the disease and keep it from worsening, it cannot reverse nerve damage or physical disfigurement that may have occurred prior to the diagnosis.

As a result, it is vital that the disease be diagnosed as soon as possible before any permanent nerve damage occurs.

Leprosy Prognosis

If your doctor diagnoses leprosy early, before it becomes severe, your chances of survival improve.

Early treatment prevents further tissue damage, halts disease spread, and avoids serious health complications.

When a person is diagnosed at a later stage, after significant disfigurement or disability, the outlook is typically worse.

However, proper treatment is still required to avoid further body damage and the spread of the disease to others.

Despite a successful course of antibiotics, there may be permanent medical complications, but your doctor will be able to work with you to help you cope with and manage any last impacts.

Summary

The bacterium Mycobacterium leprae is what causes leprosy, which is a very serious, debilitating, and potentially life-threatening disease.

It tends to be thought of as a disease that isn’t around anymore and is associated with medieval peasants. 

However, it is very much still around today except it is handled much better as we have advanced treatment methods.

However, if you do not catch the disease in time then that is when it can get very serious and lead to disfigurement, inability to use your hands and feet, and blindness.

Jennifer Dawkins

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