As Hawaii looks at expanding visitation to Kalaupapa National Historical Park, which currently is only open to 100 adults per day because of the population of leprosy patients, Boiling Springs Family Medicine physician Dr. Chad Jumper took a look at leprosy.
Jumper commented on the number of misunderstandings surrounding the disease, which led to shipments of patients in the 19th century to the remote Hawaiian peninsula.
Q: What is leprosy?
A: “Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by a bacteria. The disease can cause permanent damage if not treated early. Contrary to popular belief, it is not highly contagious and can be treated.”
Q: What does leprosy do to the body?
A: “Skin changes and nervous system problems are the two main effects of leprosy. The typical effects on the skin include pale or red patches of skin, lumps on the earlobes or face, and open areas on the hands and feet. Numbness in the areas of skin changes as well as chronic pain can also occur.”
Q: What is the life expectancy of those with leprosy?
A: “Leprosy is a curable disease, depending on how early treatment is started and is only rarely fatal.”
Q: What causes leprosy, and do people still get it?
A: “The disease is contracted by contact with a bacteria and is most likely spread via coughing. People still suffer from leprosy, and it is much more prevalent in developing countries. Overall, the number of cases around the world has dropped significantly over the past 30 years.”
Q: Is there any treatment for leprosy?
A: “There is effective treatment available, again dependent on how early the disease is diagnosed. Most effective treatment plans employ multiple antibiotics to cure the disease and fight the possibility of drug resistance.”