Image for illustrative purposes. Novartis.com
Image for illustrative purposes. Novartis.com

COSTA RICA NEWS – Despite being now called Hansen’s Disease and classed as a curable illness, leprosy still carries its old stigma. In reporting four cases of the disease diagnosed by doctors at Social Security (CCSS or Caja) facilities in the Osa (Central Pacific) region of this country, La Nacion refused to release the names of the patients..

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease (HD), is a chronic infection caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Read more…
Despite great strides made in treatment of Hansen’s disease during the 20th century, it still occurs in isolated cases, especially in the tropics. But the aspect of the disease that has not changed since ancient times is the image of being “unclean” and the fear of contagion, despite not be easily transmitted at all.

After a hiatus of many years, the first case appeared two years ago in a man. Two women and two adolescent boys are currently under treatment for it. It is caused by the slow developing Mycobacterium leprae bacillus.

Despite being less prevalent than the tuberculosis, another equally treatable bacillus, it is feared more, perhaps because it is a skin disease that once disfigured hundreds of patients before modern medicine caught up with it. But the Medieval fear remains.

But the Health Ministry has diagnosed and treated 96 cases from 1995 to 2011. Currently, 42 persons are being treated for it and will be cured — although because of the fearful silence that surrounds it, no one hears of it.

Notes epidemiologist Maritza Morera of the Public Health system (Caja) it does not even cost Costa Rica anything to treat it. “The treatment is a donation from the United Nations World Health Organization,” she told La Nacion.

“Depending on the type of Hansen’s, treatment lasts from six to 24 months,” she added. Length of treatment depends also on whether the patient is an adult or a child. Health authorities in Osa note that treatment by three chemicals costs $7,000 per patient on an average.

One patient is contemplating even constructing a special bedroom so he may be away from the frightened gaze of the ignorant. This is despite the fact that the illness is terribly slow to pass from patient to the uninfected–priests who were the only ones willing to succor those in Hawaiian leper colonies passed years in close contact with patients before being infected in the 19th century — if even then.

“Now my life. .. has changed totally,” one patient told the paper, “I think the loneliness has done me more damage, even though I feel fine. Just thinking that I have this disease makes me sad.” And this reveals the tragedy of Hansen’s. Ironically, much of what was in ancient times diagnosed as leprosy was instead the late stages of syphilis.

Treatment is painstaking, however. A Caja technician must visit the home daily because the medicine must be administered under “strictly supervised vigilance.” It is not a case of simply giving the patient a pill.

Source: iNews.co.cr, reposted with permission


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