You've Got What?
How infectious diseases are spread and simple and practical advice for preventing the spread of infection in the home and community
Leprosy is a bacterial infection of the skin and nerves caused by Mycobacterium leprae. Leprosy is a rare infection in Australia, found mainly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from northern Australia and migrants from areas where the disease is more common.
Leprosy is a notifiable condition1
Leprosy only causes infections in humans. The disease is probably transmitted from the lining of the nose of a person with the infection to the skin and respiratory tract of another person. Close and frequent contact is required for transmission but only a small proportion of close contacts, for example, in the same household, actually develop leprosy.
A contact is any person who has been close enough to an infected person to be at risk of having acquired the infection from that person.
A person with leprosy may have symptoms across a spectrum ranging from a form of leprosy where:
To a form of leprosy where:
Complications of leprosy include permanent deformity and disability, especially of the hands, feet and face; most of which can be prevented by early treatment. Special reconstructive surgery can correct many deformities that develop.
Diagnosis can be made without laboratory tests in some cases but usually a laboratory test is required. The bacteria can be seen with a microscope in a skin smear using a special stain.
(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)
Ranges from 9 months to 20 years.
(time during which an infected person can infect others)
People with leprosy may be infectious for as long as the person has untreated disease, however they are no longer infectious soon after starting treatment with a combination of two or three medicines (multi-drug therapy).
Multi-drug therapy has significantly improved treatment for people with leprosy. Most people with leprosy can be cured and do not need to be treated in hospital. The duration of therapy is usually 6 to 24 months, depending on the type of leprosy. Treatment is free.
1 – In South Australia the law requires doctors and laboratories to report some infections or diseases to SA Health. These infections or diseases are commonly referred to as 'notifiable conditions'.