What is leprosy? - some facts & figures

What is leprosy? – some facts and figures

  • Leprosy is a mildly-infectious disease caused by the bacillus Mycobacterium leprae (a relative of the tuberculosis or ‘TB’ germ).
  • Mycobacterium leprae multiplies very slowly and the incubation period of the disease is about five years. Symptoms can take as long as 20 years to appear.
  • Leprosy causes nerve damage and, if left untreated, leads to a loss of sensation in the hands and feet. This can lead to disability and, sometimes, the amputation of limbs.
  • Leprosy can damage nerves in the face causing problems with blinking, eventually leading to blindness.
  • Leprosy is not hereditary and it cannot be caught by touch.
  • It is most common in places of poverty where overcrowding and poor nutrition and housing allow people to become more susceptible to infection.
  • The last case of indigenous leprosy in the UK was diagnosed in 1798 and although it can no longer be contracted in this country, around 12 new cases are diagnosed in the UK each year.
  • Leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT), which was developed in the early 1980s.
  • Within one day of starting MDT there is no risk of the disease spreading to anyone else. Lack of education, however, means many people affected by leprosy are still stigmatised, even after they have been cured, especially if the disease has caused irreversible disabilities.
  • There are around three million people worldwide disabled as a result of the late treatment of leprosy.
  • Leprosy is commonly diagnosed in a person’s 20s or 30s. Six to eight per cent of new diagnoses, however, are in children aged 15 and under.
  • The most recent World Health Organisation (WHO) figures state that in 2016 there were 214,783 new cases of leprosy diagnosed. That is approximately one every two minutes. More than 60 per cent were found in India.
  • The latest WHO leprosy statistics can be found here - http://www.who.int/lep/situation/latestdata/en/


These facts & figures are published by kind permission of The Leprosy Mission