Mycobacterium leprae is the slow-growing bacteria that causes leprosy, notes WebMD. Leprosy is also called Hansen's disease, after the name of the scientist who discovered the bacteria in 1873.
People infected with Mycobacterium leprae may develop tuberculoid, lepromatous or borderline leprosy, states WebMd. Patients with tuberculoid leprosy are less likely to spread the disease, have only one or a few small patches of pale-colored skin, and may experience numbness in affected areas of the skin. Lepromatous leprosy is more contagious, and people suffering from this form of leprosy exhibit widespread skin bumps and rashes and suffer from numbness and weakness. Doctors diagnose patients who show symptoms of both lepromatous and tuberculoid forms of the condition with borderline leprosy.
Doctors perform skin biopsies to diagnose leprosy, and in some cases they may do skin smears to determine if bacteria are present, notes WebMD. Leprosy is a curable disease, and doctors prescribe antibiotics over long term to treat its associated infections. They also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, including steriods such as prednisone, to control nerve pain and damage. People with leprosy may also take thalidomide to suppress the body's immune system and treat leprosy skin nodules. Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant cannot take thalidomide, as it has been proven to cause life-threatening birth defects.