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Treatment and prevention of leprosy

David Scollard, MD, PhD
Barbara Stryjewska, MD
Section Editor
C Fordham von Reyn, MD
Deputy Editor
Elinor L Baron, MD, DTMH


Leprosy (also known as Hansen's disease) is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae involving the skin and peripheral nerves. Leprosy is an important global health concern; early diagnosis and a full course of treatment are critical for preventing lifelong neuropathy and disability [1].

Leprosy remains poorly understood and often feared by the general public and even by some in the healthcare professions, although (contrary to popular folklore) it is not highly contagious, and very effective treatment is available [2,3]. Multiple drug therapy has cured approximately 11 million patients over the last 15 to 20 years, but not all patients have access to the drugs and not all countries have the infrastructure to support leprosy control efforts [4].

Worldwide, the number of dedicated leprosy programs is declining, and international migration is bringing patients to nearly every region [5]. As a result, increasingly the treatment of leprosy is being delivered by clinicians with less and less experience.

Although the infection is highly responsive to treatment, disabilities of the eyes, hands, and feet due to neuropathy are often not reversible and may require lifelong care and rehabilitation. Therefore, early diagnosis and complete treatment are necessary to minimize the likelihood of these disabilities [6].

The treatment and prevention of leprosy are reviewed here. The epidemiology, microbiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis of leprosy are discussed separately. (See "Epidemiology, microbiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis of leprosy".)

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Dec 01, 2016.
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