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Ancient Disease Still Afflicts Millions.

Although thought by many to be a disease of the past, more than 800,000 new cases of leprosy were reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1998. Every hour, 65 people around the world get the disease, 11 of whom are children. Leprosy is most endemic in Third World countries like India, Brazil, and Indonesia, with 1,500,-000-2,000,000 known incidents around the globe. WHO reported 112 new cases in the U.S. in 1998.

American Leprosy Missions, the nation's oldest leprosy assistance organization, is more active today than at any time in its history, with a program that aims to cure 125,000 people of the disease by 2001. It provides field training for counselors and physicians, transports medical supplies and personnel, arranges hospital care, and offers a multi-drug therapy that can cure leprosy sufferers. "Our goal is to bring healing to the body and spirit of people affected by leprosy," says Christopher Doyle, the organization's president. "Leprosy is a cruel disease that, left untreated, can result in horrifying deformities and disabilities. Those afflicted are often treated as outcasts, rejected by friends and family."

Leprosy is often called "a living death" because of the many horrifying effects on the human body. Without the cure, it can leave people deformed and hopeless for the rest of their lives. Even with the cure, the damage sustained over months or years cannot be reversed.

Mycobacterium leprae is the bacteria that causes leprosy. How the disease is transmitted is largely unknown, though scientists and physicians believe that it can be spread through the respiratory system and the skin.

When leprosy affects the facial nerves, a person loses the blinking reflex of the eye, which eventually leads to dryness, ulceration, and blindness. The cornea can become numb, so the person doesn't, know when dirt or particles cause irritation.

Leprosy bacilli can enter the mucous lining of the nose, which leads to internal damage and scarring. Eventually, the damage causes the nose to collapse. An early sign of leprosy in some people is a rash of bumps or nodules across the face.

When the ulnar nerve above the elbow is affected, part of the hand becomes numb and small muscles become paralyzed, leading to a curling of the fingers and, without treatment, more severe damage. Leprosy bacilli attack peripheral nerves, leading to a loss of feeling. Patients lose the automatic withdrawal reflexes which protect against hot or sharp objects. Burns and other wounds become infected, and tissues and bones eventually are eroded.

When leprosy attacks nerves in the legs, it interrupts the communication of sensation in the feet. They then become subject to bone damage and deformity through unnoticed wounds and infection. Serious infections can lead to amputations,
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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