FAQ’s

FAQ’s ~ Frequently asked questions about Hansen’s disease (Leprosy)

What is the correct terminology for Leprosy?
Hansen’s Disease is the official term in Hawaii and also advocated by the National Hansen’s Disease Center in Carville, Louisiana. However, the term “Hansen’s Disease” is used throughout most of the world. The question of terminology is widely debated, proponents of each term citing a number of reasons for their preference. However, it is universally agreed that the term “leper” is totally inappropriate and should not be used. Dictionary definitions of the word “leper” include the adjectives “immoral” and “unclean”. Persons with Hansen’s Disease are neither of these things.

What is Hansen’s Disease?
Hansen’s Disease is a chronic, infectious disease caused by a germ, Mycobacterium leprae. It usually involves the nerves, skin and eyes.

Is Hansen’s Disease infectious?
Yes, when untreated. However, even the most contagious patient becomes non-infectious within a few days or weeks of treatment. In addition, very few persons exposed to untreated patients contract the disease because only about five percent of the world’s population is even susceptible to it. Hansen’s Disease is transmitted by direct, person-to-person contact, usually repetitive, over a prolonged period of time.

Is Hansen’s Disease hereditary?
No, however some scientists feel that susceptibility to the disease may be inherited.

How is Hansen’s Disease transmitted?
Hansen’s Disease is transmitted by direct, person-to-person contact, usually repetitive, over a prolonged period of time.

What are the symptoms?
Early symptoms include reddish or pale colored skin patches that may have a loss of feeling; bumps and thickening of the skin; loss of feeling of the hands or feet.

How many people have Hansen’s Disease?
In 2000, 738,284 cases of Hansen’s Disease were identified worldwide; 91 in the United States. Between 1 million and 2 million people are believed permanently disabled by the disease. Ten countries account for 90 percent of cases: Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo,Guinea, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal and Tanzania.

Do fingers and toes “fall off”?
No. As a result of nerve and blood vessel changes, bones in the hands and feet shrink, leaving them markedly deformed but this does not occur when a patient is under treatment. The damage may be aggravated by un-cared for injuries that occur because of the loss of feeling in hands and feet.

Do persons with Hansen’s Disease need to be isolated?
No. Mild cases are generally not infectious and the more severe cases become non-infectious within a few days or weeks of treatment. All newly diagnosed cases are treated as outpatients.

How is it treated?
Since the mid-1940’s, the sulfone drugs have been used in the treatment of Hansen’s Disease and the majority of persons who take their medicine regularly are cured. Treatment during the early stages averts disability. A multi-drug therapy – consisting of three drugs (dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine) – kills the pathogen. Relapses are rare for patients in the United States who receive multi-drug therapy, which can take six months to two years.