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What is Hansen's disease?

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Quick Answer

Hansen’s disease causes severe skin sores all over the body and creates nerve damage in the limbs, states WebMD. Hansen’s disease is also known as leprosy. People acquire it by repeated close contact with mouth and nose fluids from an infected person.

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Full Answer

A bacterium called Mycobacterium leprae causes Hansen's disease, explains WebMD. The condition alters the skin and nerves near the brain and spinal cord and may also affect the eyes and nose. Symptoms typically take about three to five years to appear after skin comes into contact with the bacteria. Tuberculoid is a mild, less contagious form of Hansen’s disease, lepromatous is a more severe form that is also more contagious, and individuals with borderline Hansen’s disease have symptoms of both the lepromatous and tuberculoid form. Symptoms of tuberculoid include a small amount of pale, flat patches on the skin, and lepromatous symptoms include widespread rashes, bumps, muscle weakness, numbness and male reproductive organ issues.

Doctors use a skin biopsy and a skin smear test to diagnose Hansen’s disease, states WebMD. A long-term antibiotic treatment treats the infection, anti-inflammatory drugs treat nerve damage and pain, and a doctor may also use an immune system suppressant called thalidomide to treat leprosy skin nodules. Hansen’s disease complications include glaucoma, blindness, face disfiguration, sexual reproduction issues and kidney failure. Hansen’s disease can permanently cause nerve, limb, skin and eye treatment if not treated.

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