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Is there a treatment for leprosy

Written by Dr Sunder Rao Bethapudy
Category: FAQs

Leprosy is curable, but the effectiveness of the treatment is dependent on an early diagnosis (before tissue damage occurs). Diagnosis these days is very simple.


Since 1982, the WHO has recommended a 6-12 month course of multidrug therapy (MDT), which it provides free throughout the world. Patients are given a course of three strong antibiotics (dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine) for multibacillary leprosy, and two drugs (rifampicin and dapsone) for paucibacillary leprosy. MDT can completely cure multibacillary leprosy within 12 months and the paucibacillary form within six months. A combination of drugs must be used because the leprosy bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics given individually as single treatments. MDT is highly effective, has few side effects and problems such as resistance or relapse are very rare.


If treatment is started early, deformities and disabilities can be prevented. MDT also makes the few highly infectious patients non-infectious very quickly, which helps prevent the spread of leprosy. In a significant percentage of cases (especially in tuberculoid leprosy), the disease will eventually burn-out or spontaneously go into remission, even if specific treatment hasn't been given. However, much damage may have occurred by then.


Since 1985 more than 15 million people have been cured of leprosy. However, because most cases of the disease occur in difficult to reach places, many people are still not treated early enough to prevent damage occurring.


There is currently no effective vaccine for leprosy. Efforts have been made to develop a vaccine based on the current TB vaccine (as it is caused by a similar micro-organism) but this hasn't been very successful and although research continues to tackle the issues, experts estimate that a leprosy vaccine is still some 10-20 years away.

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