Leprosy treatment seeks to minimize or prevent damage to the systems it affects, including skin, eyes, respiratory system, and peripheral nerves. The disease is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium leprae, discovered in 1873 by Norwegian doctor G.A Hansen. Multidrug therapy (MDT) is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an effective leprosy treatment, supplemented by other supportive care if needed. The disease is curable if the leprosy medication regimen is followed adequately.
The first choice for leprosy treatment is drugs, especially antibiotics to kill the bacterium. Medications most often used are dapsone, rifampicin, and clofazimine. They may be combined to enhance the bacteria-killing effects and prevent resistance of the organism, and are generally safe. Oral corticosteroids and thalidomide help reduce inflammation and immune response. WHO provides MDT therapy free of charge for leprosy patients worldwide, a great help to those with little or no income.
Education is a large part of leprosy treatment. Patients are taught self-care similar to individuals with diabetic neuropathy, involving careful inspection of extremities and protecting numb areas from injuries. In areas where the disease is a cause of ostracism and superstition, education can help bring sufferers forward for treatment, and community-based rehabilitation helps reintegrate them into society. Psychological counseling can help patients deal with the social stigma of the condition and its mental effects.
If leprosy is left untreated for very long, deformities and loss of function can occur. Patients have the option of reconstructive surgery to restore function, appearance, and sensation in damaged areas, unless leprosy treatment has been neglected and the disease has advanced. Physical rehabilitation and prosthetics to replace extremities lost to the disease are options for those unable to have surgery.
Patients who fail to stick to the MDT regimen risk permanent disability if there is nerve involvement. MDT therapy halts the infectious process, keeping the spread of the disease in check. As with any antibiotic treatment, patients must take the entire course of medication, or they may contribute to antibiotic resistance of Mycobacterium leprae. In many jurisdictions, leprosy is a reportable disease, meaning cases must be documented with the local health department.
Ocular damage is common in untreated leprosy, and it is the third leading cause of blindness in the world. This makes early diagnosis of the disease crucial in preventing complications that can cause significant disability. If the full course of medication is followed, leprosy treatment is likely to result in a good outcome for the patient.