Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: leprosy from The Chambers Dictionary

a chronic skin disease caused by a bacillus and occurring in two forms, tubercular, beginning with spots and thickenings of the skin, and anaesthetic, attacking the nerves, with loss of sensation in areas of skin; a name formerly widely applied to chronic skin diseases; corruption (fig). [Ety as for leper]

■ leprosā'rium

a hospital for lepers.

■ leprosity
/-ros'i-ti/ n


■ lep'rous

of or affected with leprosy; scaly; scurfy.

Summary Article: Leprosy
from Encyclopedia of Global Health

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s Disease, is a chronic infection caused by the slow growing bacillus Mycobacterium leprae. Leprosy is a disfiguring disease that commonly affects the skin, peripheral nerves, and mucous membranes, but may have a wide spectrum of clinical presentations. The mild end of the spectrum, tuberculoid leprosy, consists of a small number of well demarcated, hypopigmented skin lesions with potential associated damage to near by peripheral nerves. Lepromatous leprosy, at the severe end of the spectrum, is defined by multiple skin nodules and plaques that are full of M. leprae, dermal infiltration of the hands, feet, and face, and distal peripheral neuropathies. Borderline leprosy is considered in the middle of the severity spectrum and it may either revert to tuberculoid disease or worsen to become lepromatous.

About half of all individuals with leprosy have a history of close contact with another infected person, generally a household contact with lepromatous or borderline disease. Tuberculoid leprosy is not considered to be contagious. It is thought that the bacterium is transmitted via nasal droplets. However, a significant number of patients do not have a history of exposure to a known or suspected case, suggesting other means of transmission. It has been suggested that the organism may be transmitted via contaminated soil or insect vectors. Leprosy has a long incubation period that averages three to seven years and can be longer than 40 years.

Leprosy is generally diagnosed clinically and through biopsy of skin lesions and it may be successfully treated through multi-drug therapy. Dapson forms the foundation of any leprosy treatment. Other important components of the multi-drug therapy may include Rifampin, Clofazimine, Ethionamide, Minocycline, Clarithromycin, and Ofloxacin.

Leprosy has been a recognized human disease for millennia and was known to civilizations in ancient Egypt, India, and China. Today, the major burden of disease falls in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In 1991, the World Health Assembly passed a motion calling for the elimination of leprosy as a major public health problem, defined as achieving a prevalence rate of less than one in 10,000, by the year 2000. On a global level, this target was achieved, however, as of 2005, the prevalence rate continues to exceed he stated goal in the countries of Brazil, India, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Nepal.

  • Skin Diseases.

  • Centers for Disease Control, “Hanson’s Disease (Leprosy) (cited May 2006).
  • World Health Organization, “Leprosy Today”, (cited May 2006).
  • Shaun K. Morris
    Independent Scholar
    Copyright © 2008 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

    Related Articles

    Full text Article leprosy
    The Macmillan Encyclopedia

    A chronic disease, also called Hansen's disease after the Norwegian bacteriologist Armauer Hansen (1841-1912), who discovered the bacillus...

    Full text Article Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease)
    The Cambridge Historical Dictionary of Disease

    Leprosy occurs only in humans and is caused by Mycobacterium leprae . Known since the nineteenth century as Hansen’s disease ...

    Full text Article leprosy (Hansen’s disease)
    Dictionary of Microbiology & Molecular Biology

    A chronic human disease, caused by Mycobacterium leprae , which is currently found mainly in the tropics and subtropics. It is not readily...

    See more from Credo