Leprosy - The medieval illness is far from over

For Europeans, leprosy is a disease of the "dark middle ages" - just as much as the plague and heretic burning, the law of the hand and the crusades. But worldwide, the nightmare of medicine in the Middle Ages still affects more than 200,000 people every year. The World Lepratag clarified this - on January 30, 2017.

Mutilated limbs?
The classic image of the leprosy patient is a person with fingers falling off like a nose and who mercilessly fades away.

With leprosy, the nerves actually die and the blood thickens. Without pain sensation, the sufferers injure themselves continuously and do not notice when their wounds become infected. Worsening sepsis, as a secondary infection, causes the lesions to die.

In the affected countries, leprosy sufferers generally live under the worst hygienic conditions, which makes secondary infections easy.

The horror has many forms
Strictly speaking, leprosy is not a disease, but rather a spectrum of diseases of a complex triggered by variants and relatives of the Mycobacteriums leprae.

The worst form is leprosy leprosy. Here the bacteria migrate through the blood, into the lymph channels, mucous membranes and nerves. Red lepromas overgrow and decompose the skin.

The "lion face"
Now there is the "lion face", which flowed into the popular image of leprosy: the lepromas form thickenings, bulges, knots and scars, scales and lichen cover the skin, and people felt reminded of the face of a big cat.

Ulcers and decay
Ulcers form in muscles, tissues and tendons, which also damage the internal organs. The immune system of those affected is getting weaker and weaker. However, the sick do not die of leprosy itself, but, as with AIDS, of the complications.

WHO sees victory in sight
The World Health Organization believes that it will be able to eradicate leprosy globally in the next few decades and has not counted it as a general health hazard since 2000. That helps little more than 100,000 Indian people, 27,000 infected people in Brazil and many thousands in tropical Africa.

The plague can be cured
But leprosy can be cured. Three drugs, dapsone, clofazimine and rifampicin fight the bacterium sustainably, but the treatment often takes several years and requires systematic monitoring by doctors.
So far, the WHO has cured 16 million people. After taking the antibiotics for the first time, those affected can no longer spread the disease.

A long incubation period
Leprosy has a long incubation period. Between four and six years, those affected can carry the bacterium and infect other people before the disease breaks out.

The disease is rightly considered a disease of the poor, and those infected in the slums of Dar es Salaam or Delhi usually only go to the doctor when the leprosy has progressed and ulcers cover their skin; or they come because of inflamed wounds that developed as a secondary infection.

Leprosy as a market advantage
In India, the center of the epidemic today, leprosy is even considered a perverse market advantage in the begging business. Those who show open wounds or who lack limbs hope to get more mild gifts.
This even means that the arms not only fake wounds or missing limbs, but even mutilate themselves, amputate fingers or toes.
To control leprosy, these practices are fatal. Because these untreated patients infect healthy people.

How contagious is leprosy?
The leprosy bacterium is only slightly contagious. As a rule, skin contact with lepers does not infect as much as through breathing air. Infection is only likely if someone comes into contact with the body fluids of the sick for a long time.
Doctors and nurses who do not comply with the known protective measures such as face masks or gloves are at risk.
The best self-protection in Lepra areas is to wash your hands regularly with fresh water.

The goal is education
In addition to the fight against the epidemic itself, education about the forms of infection is an essential goal of the WHO.

With hardly any illness, those affected have been and are being deprived of their human rights as much as with leprosy. Magical thinking, conspiracy delusion and conspiracy theory made them scapegoats who fell victim to pogroms.

In the Middle Ages, the "leper" had to live in special houses, wear special clothes and announce themselves with noises so that the healthy could take away.
Their marriages were dissolved, they were not allowed to make a will or appear in court. If they died, they were not buried in a Christian cemetery.

Ignorance and exclusion
Even today, medical myths distort the treatment of the sick. Lepers are abandoned in some African countries, banished from the villages, and in India they are the epitome of the untouchables.
As with AIDS sufferers, information is needed here: Nobody becomes infected with leprosy because they hug the sick, and the disease can be cured. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

Video: How Does Leprosy Damage the Human Body? (January 2022).