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Amidst all the myths around catching leprosy, we ask: what’s the truth?

Leprosy is not very infectious

Many people fear that leprosy is highly infectious and so they avoid people affected by leprosy. In fact, leprosy is a mildly infectious disease. Only 1 in 10 people affected by leprosy are infectious and after 72 hours of receiving the correct treatment for leprosy (multi drug therapy), even those that were infectious, are no longer infectious.

That means that you are very unlikely to catch leprosy, unless you are in close and regular contact over a prolonged time with an infectious person who has leprosy, but has not been treated for it.

95% of the world population are immune to leprosy

Leprosy mostly affects people with weak immune systems. Around 95% of the world population has an immune system that is strong enough to make them immune from leprosy. So, even if they come into contact with the bacteria that causes leprosy (M. Leprae) their immune system will destroy the bacteria and they will not develop the disease.

Lots of things can affect our immune system – the genetic make-up we inherit from our parents, poverty, nutrition, sanitation, other diseases and certain medications. 

I live in a community where there are people affected by leprosy – what about me?

As well as what you have already read about leprosy being very hard to catch, there is further good news. Because of research that The Leprosy Mission has conducted, looking at people who are in contact with people affected by leprosy, we are now, along with a number of other organisations within the Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy (GPZL), rolling out the use of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

This means that, if you have been exposed to leprosy (for example, if you live or work closely with a person who has recently been diagnosed with leprosy) we will give you a medicine that you can take which reduces your risk of having leprosy yourself.

Even better, by the year 2035 we hope that no one will ever be diagnosed with leprosy ever again. You are a part of the generation that will end the oldest disease known to man.