Leprosy (Hansen's Disease)


Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is an infection caused by bacteria and is usually spread from person to person.


Leprosy is very rare in the United States, with fewer than 150 cases per year. The disease can be found worldwide more commonly in countries like Angola, Brazil, India, Nepal, and parts of Africa to name a few. If you travel to these countries, avoid long contact with people that have Hansen’s disease because you could be exposed to the bacteria.


The bacteria can spread in the air and infection can occur through inhalation of this air. If someone is infected, they can contaminate the air by coughing, sneezing, etc. Infection can also occur through other body fluids. The only animal known to transmit the Leprosy disease to humans is the armadillo. Cross-species transmission is very rare and therefore it is of little concern in this regard.


It will take between 2-10 years before signs and symptoms of leprosy will appear. Most symptoms are seen on the skin and mucous membranes. Signs are: skin lesions, skin growths, thick and rough skin, pain, muscle weakness, eye problems, ulcers, enlarged nerves and nosebleeds.


Fortunately, this disease is very curable. The duration of treatment is between 6 months to 2 years through varies antibiotics. The National Hansen’s Disease Program provides special clinics specifically for those being treated for Leprosy.


Avoid those that carry the disease, especially when traveling abroad.  Most prevention lies on the proper care and early diagnosis of people infected with Leprosy. Those that are aware they have the disease or could have the disease should take the proper steps to get treated and avoid contact with others, especially children.


Because cross-species transmission is very rare, there is little concern when handling most animals. The only animal known to pose a threat to humans is the armadillo. If you live in an area where armadillos are found, avoid contact with them as a safety percussion.

Other Facts

Fortunately, most adults have very little risk of getting Leprosy even if exposed to the bacteria. Evidence suggests that 95% of adults are unable to get the disease even if exposed.