Leprosy (Hansen's Disease)

  • Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is an infection caused by bacteria and is usually spread from person to person.
  • Leprosy is very rare in the United States, with fewer than 150 cases per year.
  • The disease can be found worldwide more commonly in countries like:
    • Angola
    • Brazil
    • India
    • Nepal
    • Other parts of Africa
  • If you travel to these countries, avoid long contact with people that have Hansen’s disease because you could be exposed to the bacteria.
  • The bacteria can spread in the air and infection can occur through inhalation of this air.
  • If someone is infected, they can contaminate the air by coughing, sneezing, etc.
  • Infection can also occur through other body fluids.
  • The only animal known to transmit the Leprosy disease to humans is the armadillo. Cross-species transmission is very rare and of little concern in this regard.
  • It will take between 2–10 years before signs and symptoms of leprosy will appear.
  • Most symptoms are seen on the skin and mucous membranes. Signs are:
    • Skin lesions
    • Skin growths
    • Thick and rough skin
    • Pain
    • Muscle weakness
    • Eye problems
    • Ulcers
    • Enlarged nerves
    • Nosebleeds
  • Fortunately, this disease is very curable.
  • The duration of treatment is between 6 months to 2 years through various antibiotics.
  • The National Hansen’s Disease Program provides special clinics specifically for those being treated for Leprosy.
  • Avoid those that carry the disease, especially when traveling abroad. 
  • Most prevention lies on the proper care and early diagnosis of people infected with Leprosy.
  • Those that are aware they have the disease or could have the disease should take the proper steps to get treated and avoid contact with others, especially children.
  • Because cross-species transmission is very rare, there is little concern when handling most animals.
  • The only animal known to pose a threat to humans is the armadillo. If you live in an area where armadillos are found, avoid contact with them as a safety precaution.
Other Facts
  • Fortunately, most adults have very little risk of getting Leprosy even if exposed to the bacteria.
  • Evidence suggests that 95% of adults are unable to get the disease even if exposed.