Essay | Leprosy in the 12th and 21st century | What is Leprosy?

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’.

See the links for the previous posts of this series.

Greetings by Sophie

What is leprosy?
The ‘Mycobacterium leprae’

Leprosy is an infection disease that is cause by a bacteria. This bacteria is called in its original Latin ‘Mycobacterium leprae’, a bacillus spirally. (Ryan & Ray, 2004, pp. 451 – 453). The bacteria itself  has several characteristics in microbiology. It is an aerobic bacillus and protected by a thick fat surrounding which is unique for mycobacteria. But nonetheless the bacteria is very active because it is intracellular, full of acid, intercellular and pathogenic. Pathogenic means that the bacillus is of biological origin and is not often called as a poison. But this rare combination of a biological bacillus that is also acid-fast is a very dangerous combination. This all together is called the bacillus that causes leprosy, the ‘Mycobacterium leprae’. (McMurray, 1996) The bacteria is contagious and is usually transmitted through coughing or sneezing. There are some taboos about the disease, but in history it was not known yet.

The two extremes

Leprosy is in an advanced stage very good visible. You would expect that with such an aggressive bacillus that is described here above. But it depends on with which kind of leprosy the person is dealing with. Nowadays leprosy is divided into two extremes of the disease. One section is the ‘Tuberculoid leprosy’, which thanks its name to tuberculosis that is a bit alike but not the same. And the other section is the ‘Lepromatous leprosy’, which is the most known and recognizable section of the disease. (Poli Dermatologie, Academisch Medisch Centrum, Amsterdam, 2012) The ‘Lepromatous leprosy’ is also the most aggressive version of the two divided sections. The symptoms that occur in this section are the more visible symptoms and bacillus multiplies quickly and also the amount of bacillus that is present in the infected person is enormous. Therefore, the lesion is also larger and evolves quicker. (Boelaert, 2014)

The symptoms and the visuals

The most common symptom is that leprosy causes chronical wounds on the skin that heals very slowly and is hard to come across. And another common symptom is that leprosy causes facial malformations, deformities of the limbs such as missing fingers, toes or even complete limbs. It also causes muscle atrophy which means that the muscles are less vigorous and articular deformities are also common and visible in the movements of the infected person. (Boelaert, 2014). Another symptom of the leprosy disease is that it can also cause paralysis to the limbs, commonly hands and feet or blindness to the eyes. This makes the infected person gets unwillingly disabilities and becomes a partly disabled person. (Lepra Stichting, 2017)

  • Boelaert, J. R. (2014). De medische renaissance van de twaalfde eeuw. In J. R. Boelaert, De medischerenaissance van de twaalfde eeuw (pp. 78 – 88). Antwerpen – Apeldoorn: Garant Uitgeversnv.
  • Lepra Stichting. (2017, January). Wat is lepra? Retrieved from Lepra Stichting:
  • McMurray, D. (1996). Mycobacteria and Nocardia. In S. Baron, Baron’s Medical Microbiology (4 ed.).Texas, United States of America: University of Texas Medical Branch.
  • Poli Dermatologie, Academisch Medisch Centrum, Amsterdam. (2012). Lepra (Leven met Lepra).Retrieved January 2017, from
  • Ryan, K., & Ray, C. (2004). Sherris Medical Microbiology. United Kingdom: McGraw Hill.

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