Leprosy (Hansen's Disease), sometimes called "Hanseniasis" or "H.D.," is a chronic my cobacterial disease of man, caused by Mycobacterium leprae (infectious in some cases), primarily affecting the peripheral nerves and secondarily involving skin and certain other tissues/organs, in particular the eye, mucosa of the nasal and upper respiratory tract and also the testes. In most cultures, HD still carries a strong stigma that sometimes makes more trouble for the patient that the actual leprosy itself.
One of the main characteristics of Leprosy is its ability to affect the various nervous systems of the body, particularly the peripheral nerves. The key targets of M.leprae (Mycobacterium leprae) are the nerves' Schwann Cells. Leprosy does not affect the Central Nervous System. Where the sensory nerves are damaged, in varying degrees, they cannot register pain. Where those nerves supply the extremities of hands and feet, the latter are vulnerable to burns and other injuries that can often result in the loss of fingers and toes and sometimes hands and feet. Where the eye is affected, corneal anesthesia. Cranial Nerve involvement, can often lead to blindness, where the lack of health education makes the sufferer unaware of the means to prevent injury due to dust or other irritants. Where the motor nerves are involved, various forms of paralysis such as "Dropped Foot", "Dropped Wrist", "Clawed Hand", "Lagophthalmos" (eye cannot close due to nerve paralysis) can result. Where the autonomic nerves are damaged, the hair follicle, particularly in the cooler areas such as the eye-brows, can often result in the loss of hair in the affected parts. Damage to the autonomic nerves also can result in poor or no function of the sweat and sebaceous glands. This causes a drying of the skin and consequent cracking, exposing the sufferer to secondary infection.
Leprosy is not a curse from the gods or divine punishment for some sins committed in the past. Leprosy is a disease like any other disease and it is TOTALLY CURABLE. Another myth that still prevails, even in "educated" societies, is that the disease causes flesh to rot and fingers and toes to "drop off". Nothing could be further from the truth. Tragically, limbs that are damaged, because the victim cannot feel pain, sometimes have to be amputated but, we can now detect the disease before the patient is conscio...
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... dissolves the germ by certain chemicals or enzymes. The second type of protective mechanism is specific and the body's defense system can only "recognize" a foreign invader if it has experience in this identification of certain antigens. In Lepromatous patients, their macrophages can ingest the M.leprae but cannot digest (kill) because there are no "T-Type" ("T" for Thymus, the gland that programs these cells) lymphocytes to assist the macrophages to produce the needful digestive juices or enzymes. So, in the case of Lepromatous leprosy, the very cells that are meant to kill off the bacilli, are actually transporting them around the body and providing an environment in which they may even be able to multiply.
At the present time though, leprosy cannot be prevented. Research on a preventive vaccine, however, is slowly progressing. This vaccine will be used the same way we use vaccines of Smallpox, Typhoid, Cholera, Plaque, and etc. A vaccine of killed or weakened leprosy bacilli will be used to immunize everyone from the disease. Already, a vaccine of killed leprosy bacilli has been used to immunize mice and armadillos against leprosy. Millions people will need to receive MDT.
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