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Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy)

Hansen’s disease is not a reportable disease in Oklahoma.  Hansen’s disease, known in the past as leprosy, is a skin disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae (M. leprae).  Hansen’s disease is rare In the U.S., but is still found in some states such as California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas and New York.  Hansen’s disease is more common in other parts of the world.  Most people in the U.S. with Hansen’s disease were born in a foreign country and were exposed there.

The exact way that Hansen’s disease spreads is not clearly known, although it is thought to be spread from one person to another through nasal droplets.  It may take between nine months and 20 years for symptoms to show up, but as a rule about four years.  Armadillos can have Hansen’s disease, and some studies suggest they can spread it to humans.

Hansen’s disease is not spread easily.  You are at a greater risk if you live with or have long-term close contact with someone who has untreated Hansen’s disease.  Living in a country where Hansen’s disease is more common also increases the risk.

The disease most often affects the skin, nerves and muscles.  Skin lesions are either lighter or darker than the normal skin color, with loss of feeling.  Large bumps (nodules) may appear.  The eyes and nose may also be involved, causing loss of eyesight and breathing problems.  If not treated, muscle and nerve damage may cause loss of muscle control and crippling of the hands and feet.

Hansen’s disease can be treated with antibiotics, which must be prescribed by a healthcare provider.

Correct diagnosis is the first step to stop the spread of the disease.  Early treatment is needed to prevent severe or lasting disease, and to prevent spread to others. People with Hansen’s disease are no longer infectious after a few days of treatment.

If you have close contact with someone who has untreated Hansen’s disease, avoid using your bare hands to touch any items that may have nasal fluids on them. Wash your hands often, using soap and water when your hands are plainly soiled, or use alcohol-based hand products when your hands look clean.  Tell your healthcare provider if you have been close to someone who has not been treated for their Hansen’s disease.

Leprosy Fact Sheets and Information:

Hansen's Disease Fact Sheet (35k.pdf)

External Leprosy Resources:

Hansen's Disease (CDC)
National Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) Program (HRSA)

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