Leprosy: How Much do you Really Know?
Published: 20 October 2020
Published: 20 October 2020
Because leprosy, also known as Hansen's Disease, is rare in Australia (VIC DoH 2015), you might not know much more about it than what you have seen in media portrayals.
Most Australians affected by leprosy are either Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from northern Australia or people who have migrated from a country where the condition is more common (SA Health 2020).
Did you know that for more than 60 years, World Leprosy Day has taken place on the last Sunday of January, thanks to the French humanitarian strong>Raoul Folleraeu (WHO 2020)?
Folleraeu aimed to use this day of awareness to catalyse equal care and respect for people with leprosy. He hoped it could prevent stigmatisation and improve healthcare regarding leprosy, globally (NLT 2018).
Leprosy is a bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium leprae (M. leprae), which multiples slowly and progressively affects cooler body tissue (e.g. skin, testes, superficial nerves, eyes) (VIC DoH 2015; WHO 2019).
It is a chronic disease that is most common in the tropics and subtropics and can be cured with multi-medicine therapy over 6 to 24 months, subject to the type of leprosy (Better Health Channel 2017; SA Health 2020).
Over the last 20 years, 16 million people with leprosy have been cured. The World Health Organization offers free leprosy treatment (WebMD 2020).
Early treatment and surgery can help to improve deformities and disabilities (SA Health 2020). Treatment is needed to avoid permanent damage such as:
(SA Health 2020)
Contrary to what you may have thought, leprosy is not actually highly contagious (Better Health Channel 2017). It only infects humans (SA Health 2020).
Transmission is thought to occur via the infected nasal lining of someone with leprosy to another person's skin or respiratory tract. Thereby, close contact with infected people increases chances of transmission, but not many close contacts develop leprosy (SA Health 2020).
Infections found in newborns and young children are thought to be passed via the placenta (Better Health Channel 2017).
The average incubation period of leprosy is five years, however, it may take up to as many as 20 years for symptoms to show (WHO 2020).
Madeline Gilkes, CDE, RN, is a Fellow of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine. She focused her Master of Healthcare Leadership research project on health coaching for long-term weight loss in obese adults. Madeline has found a passion for preventative nursing. She has transitioned from leadership roles (CNS Gerontology & Education, Clinical Facilitator) in the acute/hospital setting to education management and primary healthcare. Madeline’s vision is to implement lifestyle medicine to prevent and treat chronic conditions. Her research proposal for her PhD involves Lifestyle Medicine for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Madeline is a Credentialled Diabetes Educator (CDE) and primarily works in the academic role of Head of Nursing. Madeline’s philosophy focuses on using humanistic management, adult learning theories/evidence and self-efficacy theories and interventions to promote positive learning environments. In addition to her Master of Healthcare Leadership, Madeline has a Graduate Certificate in Diabetes Education & Management, Graduate Certificate in Adult & Vocational Education, Graduate Certificate of Aged Care Nursing, and a Bachelor of Nursing. She is working towards her PhD. See Educator Profile