Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by a bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. M. leprae has a unique predilection for cooler areas of the body like the skin, nerves close to the surface of skin, eyes, earlobes, hands, feet and mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract and testicles. Leprosy is known to develop slowly and can take from six months to 40 years to show any symptoms.
Leprosy is mildly contagious and not highly transmissible. The exact mechanism of transmission is not fully understood. The bacteria is most likely transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during prolonged, close and frequent contact with untreated cases. Although human-to-human transmission is the primary source of infection, certain animals can carry and rarely transfer M. leprae to humans. These include nine-banded armadillos, African chimpanzee, sooty mangabey, and cynomolgus macaque.
Even though the risk of contracting leprosy is quite low, one can reduce the risk by avoiding contact with body fluids and the rashes of people who have leprosy. Diagnosis of the condition is based on clinical symptoms and is confirmed by biopsy. Leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT). Majority of patients can take their medications at home and continue with their regular lives. Patients rapidly become non contagious after starting therapy and do not need to be isolated.