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What is Hansen’s disease?

Hansen’s disease (also known as Leprosy) is a chronic disease that affects the peripheral nerves, skin, upper respiratory tract, eyes, and the lining of the nose. Hansen’s disease is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. There are two major types of Hansen’s:
  • Tuberculoid – characterized by relatively few bacteria in the skin and nerves
  • Lepromatous – characterized by large amounts of bacteria.
While Hansen’s was once extremely mysterious and carried a stigma, today there is effective treatment available, including a cure.

What are the symptoms of Hansen’s disease?

  • Discolored patches of skin
  • Growths on skin
  • Thick, stiff or dry skin
  • Ulcers on the soles of feet
  • Swelling or lumps on the face or earlobes
  • Loss of eyebrows or eyelashes
  • Numbness of affected areas of the skin
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis
  • Enlarged nerves (especially around elbows, knees, and neck)
  • Eye problems that may lead to blindness
  • Stuffy nose
  • Nosebleeds

What causes Hansen’s disease?

Hansen’s is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. The way it is transmitted is not fully understood. The bacteria grow only in living hosts and have not been grown in laboratory research or studies, except in certain animals. The way it is likely spread is via the respiratory tract, since large numbers of bacteria are sometimes found in the noses and mouths of untreated patients. However, most people have a natural immunity to the disease and will not contract it if they are exposed to it. Only about 5 percent of all people are susceptible to Hansen’s.

How is Hansen’s disease diagnosed?

Hansen’s is often diagnosed after clinical evaluation, detailed patient history, and identification of characteristic symptoms. Specific ways to confirm diagnosis include:
  • Skin smear to confirm bacteria
  • A skin biopsy of a lesion

What are the treatments for Hansen’s disease?

Hansen’s is a treatable and curable disease. The major drugs are:
  • Dapsone
  • Rifampin
  • Clofazimine
  • Minocycline
  • Oflaxacin
  • Clarithromycin
Patients with mild reactions can be treated symptomatically with analgesics, but most cases will also require prednisone or similar drugs for control of the reactions.

Where can I find out more about Hansen’s disease?

Hansen's Disease Articles