Debunking the Myths of a Rare Biblical Disease

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What does it take to change a person’s mind? Is it something as simple as showing evidence? Will it be convincing only from a certain source? Do people only change their minds once they see a personal connection each with the issue at large? Truth is, it might take all three to change a person’s mind. But once a group has decided what it thinks about a topic, it is significantly more difficult to change their collective mind.

Sadly, there are many subjects the cultural opinion has which are outdated, ill-informed, or downright wrong. Few subjects fall into this category more than medical conditions. A prime example of this is leprosy.

First of all, leprosy is an outdated term. Today, doctors diagnose people infected by the Mycobacterium leprae bacterium with Hansen’s disease. The word “leprosy” conjures up images of leper colonies from Biblical times, with people wrapped with bloody, pus-filled rags holding their dead and decaying limbs to their bodies. The fear was that if you touch a leper or touched one of their sores, you would be infected.

Science has shed light on this tragic state of affairs. The truth is not terribly scary at all. Hansen’s disease is a very treatable disorder. In fact, most people don’t need to be treated because approximately 95 percent of the population can be exposed to the M. leprae bacterium without becoming infected; they have a natural immunity.

Even for that five percent who can become infected, the condition is very treatable once it has been identified. Unfortunately, diagnosis is not all that easy. The bacteria can incubate in a person for a decade or more before symptoms start to show.

Even once the symptoms start to show, it is quite difficult to transmit the disease to another person. People usually have to spend a significant amount of time living with someone with the disease before it can be passed along. Once treated with relatively common antibiotics, people with the disease can return to their normal, everyday lives in most cases.

Clearly, the facts of this disease do not live up to the myths. Fortunately, we are learning. Most new cases in the U.S. today can be traced to recent immigrants and the expanding habitat of the nine-banded armadillos. This animal carries the bacteria and spends just enough time in close proximity to humans to pass it along.

Now that you know a little more about Hansen’s disease, maybe you’ll be a little more ready to give up on old, outdated beliefs as science pulls back the veil of understanding.

Click here to read more about the spread of cases in Florida.


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