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Is leprosy contagious?

Phulti was sent to live in a cave by her family, but now she receives care at TLM's Anandaban Hospital. Here she poses for a photo with Ruth, from the TLM staff.

Leprosy is a mildly infectious disease. It is spread by a bacteria called M.leprae and most people are not at risk of developing leprosy if they are exposed to this bacteria.

Who is at risk of developing leprosy?

People of all ages, races, genders, and socio-economic levels can be diagnosed with leprosy. However, most people have an immune system that is strong enough to fight off the bacteria. Weakened immune systems can be caused by poor nutrition, sanitation, and hygiene, as well as by illness and genetics.

Leprosy is primarily present across Asia, South America, and Africa.

Leprosy is a disease that develops very slowly. It can be many years after a person is infected that they first begin to show symptoms. Read more about leprosy symptoms >

How can you be exposed to leprosy?

Leprosy spreads through water droplets that have come from a person that is infectious. For example, when an infectious person sneezes or coughs.

Most people who develop leprosy have been in long-term contact with an infectious person, which means they live with or near them, or perhaps work with them.

It is also possible to be exposed to leprosy through animals and through dirt.

Do people with leprosy need to quarantine?

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, we have grown used to the idea that people must quarantine when they are sick. This is not necessary with leprosy. We have not recommended quarantine for many decades (since the 1950s) because we can diagnose and treat people, so they can stay living with their family without risk to their family or neighbours.

There is no reason to quarantine or distance any person affected by leprosy.