Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Myths | Misconceptions | Understanding Leprosy

Several myths and fallacies surrounds leprosy. Many people believe that it is caused by eating spoiled food or by eating certain food combinations like chicken and squash. Others believe that leprosy is a result of pasma, for example, taking a bath after ironing clothes is believed to increase the likelihood of developing the disease. Contacting the disease from bathing in a river where a leprosy patient bathed is another false belief. In some regions of the Philippines, its even believed that merely stepping on the footprints of a patient will cause the transfer of the disease.

Leprosy is a very complex and mysterious disease. Nobody really knows the exact mode of transmission. However, based on studies, the surest and acceptable mode of transmission is through droplet infection. It has been found that millions of the bacillus called Mycobacterium leprae, are found in the mucosa of the respiratory tract, particularly in the multibacillary (MB) patients.

When a person with leprosy who is not taking any form of anti leprosy medication, coughs or sneezes, droplets are released in the air and enter the respiratory tract of other individuals. The skin is less probable route since the bacilli cannot penetrate the intact skin. Leprosy is not carried in the genes, hence not hereditary. Mycobacterium leprae is not a very efficient pathogenic organism. It is easily counteracted by our body's immune system.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Erasing the Stigma of Leprosy

Most people are naturally immune to the disease leprosy. A person can contact leprosy only if he or she belongs to the small segment of the world's populations, which is roughly five to ten percent with the lowest levels of immunity, and has been exposed to an untreated patient constantly and repeatedly. Leprosy is first mentioned in the Bible in the book of Leviticus, Chapter 13. The passage enjoined the Jewish people to regard anyone who has leprosy as unclean and one that should be banished from the company of others. This became, in years later, the rationale for the segregation of known lepers from normal society among the Christians in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Modern scientists however believe that the skin disease described in the Bible is not really leprosy but may instead refer to all kinds of soft skin ailments. in fact, the Hebrew translation of the term used for leprosy means dirty skin. This alone makes leprosy so stigmatized. People who get sick of leprosy are considered sinful and consequently, suffering from the wrath of God. Erasing the stigma of leprosy, which is as old as the disease itself, requires concerted and consistent efforts. Attitudes can be very difficult to change and have caused limitations in the progress of the National Leprosy Control Program. In the Department of Health for instance, health education given to health workers must continuously include facts about the disease in order to erase fears and change attitudes. Even health workers who know that leprosy is only mildly communicable do not want to be near ex-patients to talk about the disease or even mention the illness. So this culture must indeed be changed.