Leprosy is an old disease; it existed even in pre-historic times. It is mentioned in the Bible as well. It is an infectious disease, which is spread by the mycobacterium leprae. The transmission takes place from person to person.
The time between infection and outbreak of the disease lasts from months to decades. For the majority of the infected, the outbreak of the disease never takes place, the organism eliminates the virus without noticeable consequences.
The bacillus multiplies slowly, so that the complaints start insidiously and are often not noticed in the beginning. The spread is encouraged by the conditions of poverty, confined living conditions, lack of hygiene, poor nutrition and lack of education.
Leprosy attacks men somewhat more frequently than women. Adults are more prone to affliction than children. Yet, every seventh leprosy patient is younger than 14 years.
Leprosy does not kill, but it cripples. Several million people suffer the consequences of the disease even today: physical disablement and social segregation.
A lasting disablement threatens primarily then, when the disease is detected too late. Worldwide about 4% of the persons affected by leprosy suffer from severe disablements. Another 8% are concerned by the lasting loss of sensation. The nerves are damaged, hands, feet and even the conjunctiva of the eyes lose the ability to feel. In the long run these patients face crippling and loss of sight.
Without treatment, leprosy results in blindness and severe physical disablement in the course of the years.
For the majority of the afflicted, the medicinal treatment today brings a complete cure. Depending upon the severity of the affliction, the therapy lasts six to twelve months.
In the year 2009, around 245'000 new leprosy patients were registered and treated worldwide. The majority of leprosy patients live in India. In 2009, 133'717 new cases were registered there, that constitutes about 55% of all new leprosy patients in the world. After India, Brazil is the country with the highest frequency of leprosy cases: 37'610 new patients afflicted by leprosy were detected and treated there in the year 2009.