Mycobacterium leprae is a bacteria that is in the shape of a rod with parallel sides and round ends, according to the World Health Organization. This rod shape puts it in the bacillus family, according to MedicineNet. It is the cause of leprosy and is found abundantly in leprous sores, where the bacteria line up like pickets in a fence.
Mycobacterium leprae is considered acid-fast, which means it resists being decolorized by an acid stain, claims WHO. It is also Gram-positive. It has a tough, waxy coating that makes it very resistant to enzymes and other substances that would destroy it, though the bacillus must live inside cells, says MedicineNet. Mycobacterium leprae does not form chains, but can form clumps called globi, says WHO.
Leprosy is spread through the air, much like the cold or flu, according to PubMed Central. The incubation period ranges from between 3 and 10 years. During this time, Mycobacterium leprae attacks specialized cells in the patient's peripheral nervous system.
Fortunately, there are several medicines that successfully combat leprosy and its symptoms. They include drugs that suppress the immune system such as prednisone, which doctors consider the most effective of the anti-leprosy drugs. Other drugs are clofazimine and pentoxifylline. Interestingly, the notoriously teratogenic drug thalidomide is also useful against Mycobacterium leprae.