Subscribe to Email Updates

Living with Leprosy (Hansen's disease)


I had heard about the plight of people suffering from Leprosy. I never thought I too will be the victim of this disease. It is also called Hansen’s disease and as you must already be aware, can causes severe skin symptoms. However, I am sure you don’t know that this disease can also cause symptoms that can affect the other organs of the body. Let me explain how the numerous signs and symptoms caused due to leprosy have affected my routine life.

Waking up in the morning

I believed that leprosy was a contagious disease because I knew it occurs due to the infection by bacteria called Mycobacterium Leprae. Though it’s true that it is caused due to an infection, the belief that it's contagious is a complete myth! This disease has affected my skin and also caused damage to the nerves in my body as well as my eyes, and nose. I get up in the morning with a feeling of numbness in my hands and legs.

The nerve damage caused due to this disease has affected the sensory functions due to which I cannot feel touch, pain, or temperature. I have to take steps carefully after getting up from the bed as I may not feel if something pricks my soles.

Starting the day

Leprosy has also affected my vision to some extent. Everything looks very dim and blurred to me. I have to be careful while walking around the house and take small steps to make sure I don’t trip over something and fall down. Bathing is no longer a daily ritual for me. I have developed several discolored patches of my skin. The patches are flat, and feel numb. So, I avoid taking a bath every day. My skin cannot feel if the temperature of the water is very high. If I do take a bath with very hot water, I might end up causing burns on my skin. So, it’s best to stick to a sponge bath.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner

I have been advised to avoid eating fermented products such as yogurt as they might worsen my skin symptoms. The doctor has also asked me to drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet to improve my general health. He has also recommended me to eat vitamin C rich foods and prescribed vitamin supplements as this nutrient is known to enhance the immunity. I hope taking a high amount of vitamin C will help my body to fight this infection in a better way.

Going to work and taking medications

At present, I am not going to office, thanks to the skin symptoms and the weakness of the nerves. My gait is not stable and I often stumble while walking as my soles cannot feel the ground below them. The doctor has assured me I will be able to live a normal life once these symptoms clear up and the infection is eliminated. He had prescribed me Rifampicin and Clofazimine initially when I was diagnosed with leprosy. Later, he added dapsone to improve the results. These medications are meant to destroy the bacteria responsible for causing leprosy. Once the bacteria are killed, my body should be able to regain its normal functions over a few months.

Prevention of complications

Do you known that leprosy can spread from one person to another only if the lining of the nose of the affected person comes in close, direct contact with the skin or the respiratory tract of another person? I was relieved to know this fact. At least I do not have to worry about spreading this disease to others in family.

However, I need to take utmost care to prevent this infection from worsening. I also have to make sure the loss of vision and sensor functions caused due to this disease do not lead to accidentally falling and injuries. I use a walking stick to move around in my house. I do not go out alone and always make sure someone accompanies me even when I go to a hospital for the follow-up visits.

What are the daily limitations and what are the fears?

Leprosy has caused some disfiguring sores, and bumps on my skin. These lesions might stay for another few months. I also have to deal with the loss of sensations in my arms and legs and severe muscle weakness that have affected my routine life considerably.

What would be my life with Leprosy in the future?

I may need about 2 to 3 years to recover from the skin and nerve symptoms of Leprosy. However, the chances of complete recovery and being able to live a normal life are bleak. It may even take a much longer time and lead to a lifelong disability or disfigurement.

What are the risk factors?

Leprosy spreads when the bacteria are transmitted from the affected person while coughing or sneezing to a healthy person through the droplets containing the organisms. However, it does not spread due to shaking hands, hugging, or sitting next to the affected person.

The causes and evolution of Leprosy

The most difficult part that bothers the patients as well as the medical professionals about leprosy is this disease has a very long incubation period. The symptoms of leprosy can become evident after 5 to 10 years of the person coming in contact with the organisms. Hence, it is very difficult and even impossible to know the cause and source of contracting the infection. Even I am not sure when and how I contracted this infection and from whom. It started about an year back when I developed some lesions on my skin. I could not feel any pain when I touched the lesion or pricked it with a sharp object.

Over the next few weeks, I could feel a gradual loss of the sensory functions of my nerves. The disease has also affected my vision. Over the past few months, the symptoms have become worse. There is crippling and paralysis of my hands and feet. I have also become partially blind. There is considerable disfigurement of my nose, face, and skin. I have also developed a few ulcers on my soles. which are not healing in spite of using oral and topical antibiotics.

What are the psychological effects when you have Leprosy?

Since the day I was diagnosed with leprosy, I have been treated differently by all. Even today, people think that they might get this infection if they talk to me or sit near me. I feel very sad when my friends try to avoid me or ignore me. I am not sure whether they will be interested in interacting me even after the infection has resolved completely. My future has become uncertain due to this infection.

Dr. Jyothi Shenoy

Written by Dr. Jyothi Shenoy

Dr. Jyothi Shenoy is a doctor having a clinical experience of more than 15 years. She has an expertise in treating acute and chronic diseases like obesity, IBS, asthma, arthritis, Autism, ADHD, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, allergies, cancer, infections, and skin diseases. She believes in treating the patients in a holistic manner. She aims at educating the patients about the illness and providing tips related to their lifestyle and diet to ensure a long-term relief from the disease and preventing its recurrence.