Leprosy (Hansen's Disease)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What is the treatment for leprosy?

The majority of cases (mainly clinically diagnosed) are treated with antibiotics. The recommended antibiotics, their dosages, and length of time of administration are based on the form or classification of the disease and whether or not the patient is supervised by a medical professional. In general, paucibacillary leprosy is treated with two antibiotics, dapsone and rifampicin, while multibacillary leprosy is treated with the same two plus a third antibiotic, clofazimine. Usually, the antibiotics are given for at least six to 12 months or more.

Antibiotics can treat paucibacillary leprosy with little or no residual effects on the patient. Multibacillary leprosy can be kept from advancing, and living M. leprae can be essentially eliminated from the person by antibiotics, but the damage done before antibiotics are administered is usually not reversible. Recently, the WHO suggested that single-dose treatment of patients with only one skin lesion with rifampicin, minocycline (Minocin), or ofloxacin (Floxin) is effective. Studies of other antibiotics are ongoing. Each patient, depending on the above criteria, has a schedule for their individual treatment, so treatment schedules should be planned by a clinician knowledgeable about that patient's initial diagnostic classification.

The role for surgery in the treatment of leprosy occurs after medical treatment (antibiotics) has been completed with negative skin smears (no detectable acid-fast bacilli) and is often only needed in advanced cases. Surgery is individualized for each patient with the goal to attempt cosmetic improvements and, if possible, to restore limb function and some neural functions that were lost to the disease.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/15/2015

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