Essay | Leprosy in the 12th and 21st century | Leprosy in the 21st century

The following parts of my essay have my own copyright in formulation of words, opinions and otherwise sources are mentioned.

The past couple of weeks I have followed the History of Healthcare course as an elective course to broaden my knowledge.
We had to give a presentation about a free chosen subject. I chose to give a presentation about the ‘Antiquity and the Olympics | Medicine in the pre Hippocratic Era’.
And as a final product I chose to write an essay about ‘Leprosy in the 12th and 21st century’.

For these blog posts I will divide my essay into four parts: ‘Introduction’, ‘What is Leprosy?’, ‘Leprosy in the 12th century‘, ‘Leprosy in the 21st century and a conclusion part’.

Greetings by Sophie

Leprosy in the 21st century
The ‘Mycobacterium leprae’
microscopic ‘Mycobacterium leprae’, large cells in bone marrow

In the current century we know leprosy is caused by a very infectious bacillus. And this bacillus can be transferred from one human to another human by sneezing or coughing. That way of spreading is also common among viruses that spread molecules such as the flu. Now and then there is around the seasons autumn and winter a flu outbreak. Today we can recognise and discover the leprosy disease through a microscopic investigation or through radiology of the limbs.

Leprosy around the world

The leprosy disease still occurs around the world. Not that often anymore in Europe and in the United States of America. But is it reported that even in the United States of America there were 175 cases of leprosy. The modern name for leprosy is ‘Hansen’s disease’ and according to the National Hansen’s Disease Program (NHDP), between 150 and 200 humans are victim of the infection disease.  (Hansen Disease – Frequently Asked Questions, 2017). Even in September 2016 a school kid in California was diagnosed with the leprosy disease. (Miller, 2017).

It is more commonly known that in third-world countries, mostly situated in Africa, the leprosy disease occurs more often and more aggressive. It is not that the disease is different over there, it is different because most humans do not recognize it in time. Or at that moment, they are not able to go to the hospital and pay much for the expensive antibiotics treatment. This leprosy disease can occur all around the world.

Leprosy diagnostics

It still occurs that infected humans lose their limbs, get facial malformations or other disabilities that are mention in ‘the symptoms and the visuals’ section of this paper. What we know now is that it is less common that you will lose your limbs if you are infected by this disease. This is because of the early diagnoses and precise diagnoses.

radiology image of lost limbs nowadays
radiology image of lost limbs nowadays

And not only today we investigate the living humans who could have leprosy. But we are also able to investigate skeletons of even hundreds of years old. Thanks to the technologic revolution and improving DNA studies and extractions of parts of the DNA. It is now possible with the ‘Whole Genome Amplification’ method to extract and distract DNA of skeletons and multiply this so that could be examined if a human was infected with the leprosy disease. In 15%-50% of the infected humans it also effected the skeleton. For decades we already examine skeletons for signs of leprosy such as missing partially limbs or malformations of the limbs.

Nowadays we are able to examine those skeletons not only by our sight, but also by the help of genetic research. (Boelaert, 2014). Today it is also thought that the bacillus multiplies circa once every two weeks according to the ‘Lepra Stichting’. So it is not evolving that quickly and we diagnose it early. (Lepra Stichting, 2017) . Modern investigations have also proved that the leprosy disease was gradually spreading through the Western and Eastern world since the Roman Empire had fallen. (Porter, 2006)

Leprosy treatment

It is also thought that this number would be much higher if humans were not cured that often with the aggressive anti solution generally named ‘antibiotics’. Even the aggressive variant of leprosy can be cured by a correct combination of antibiotics for several days. When a treatment is stopped too early, the disease could come back because the bacteria reignite the infection disease and therefore the risk of contamination. What we know now is that after the treatment, the bacteria could still be present in the body for several years. But because it died due to the antibiotics treatment, the bacillus are not causing any risk anymore. (Miller, 2017)

In The Netherlands are several organisations active such as the ‘Lepra Stichting’, ‘Lepra.organd the Lilliane Fondsto give children all around the world who suffer from leprosy a treatment and a better future. Even the ‘World Health Organisation (WHO)has a special information webpage about leprosy because it is still an infection disease that matters to the whole world. [The sources are hyperlinked in this paragraph.]

  • Boelaert, J. R. (2014). De medische renaissance van de twaalfde eeuw. In J. R. Boelaert, De medische renaissance van de twaalfde eeuw (pp. 78 – 88). Antwerpen – Apeldoorn: Garant Uitgevers nv.
  • Hansen Disease – Frequently Asked Questions. (2017, January). Retrieved from HRSA:
  • Lepra Stichting. (2017, January). Wat is lepra? Retrieved from Lepra Stichting:
  • Miller, S. G. (2017, January). Strange Facts about Leprosy. Retrieved from Live Science:
  • Porter, R. (2006). The Cambridge History of Medicine. In R. Porter, The Cambridge History of Medicine (pp. 27, 29, 68, 76, 90, 182, 359,). New York: Cambridge University Press.

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