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Leprosy (Hansen's Disease)

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Diagnosis and Treatment

In the United States, most physicians do not have experience identifying leprosy because it is extremely rare (about 100 to 200 new cases per year, mostly occurring in the Gulf Coast, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New York or among people who have lived in areas of the world where the disease is more widespread). It is important that people who have unusual rashes that do not respond to treatment seek out skilled dermatologists who can make an accurate diagnosis.

Diagnosis of leprosy is typically based on clinical symptoms, especially localized skin lesions that show sensory loss (loss of sensation to stimuli such as touch and heat). Thickened, enlarged peripheral nerves are also a hallmark of the disease. To reach a conclusive diagnosis, healthcare providers should test skin samples.

With early diagnosis, leprosy can be treated. People who are being treated for leprosy are not contagious, and they can lead a normal lifestyle.

In 1981, the World Health Organization recommended multidrug therapy with dapsone, rifampicin, and clofazimine. In the United States, the regimen provides all drugs on a daily basis with multibacillary cases treated for 2 years and paucibacillary cases treated for 1 year. Additional information on diagnostic support, treatment regimens and the use of alternate drugs is available from the National Hansen’s Disease Program.

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Last Updated February 08, 2011