There are illnesses that we take in stride (the common cold), and then there are the ones that scare us at a visceral level (Ebola). Sometimes, that fear is justified – some bacterial pathogens are both amazingly virulent and stunningly endurant (tetanus). Other pathogens are commonly misidentified at first, but frightening lethal in a very short time (Ebola again). However, sometimes the larger public panic about disease is a holdover from an older time. Leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, is mix of both. Misunderstood by most people, and nowhere near as contagious as feared, leprosy is certainly not the threat it is often portrayed to be. However, as another disorder that is often misdiagnosed and with terrible consequences, it certainly is terrible for the 200,000 people diagnosed each year and those living with it already.
In this article from the BBC, a new rapid diagnostic test was discussed. This could allow for rapid and accurate detection of infection with Mycobacterium leprae, the bacteria which causes Hansen’s disease. This could lead to earlier treatment with the cocktail of antimicrobial drugs needed to treat the disease. The sooner patients can be started on appropriate antimicrobials, the better their prognosis is: they are less likely to suffer the nerve damage that leads to tissue necrosis and disfigurement.