Home | Clinical Practice | Leprosy in Australia: a forgotten disease
Supplied- Colin Martin

Leprosy in Australia: a forgotten disease

There have been recent reports that leprosy is on the rise in Australia with 20 cases reported in Western Australia in the last five years.

A common myth is that it has been eradicated, however it still exits, as every two minutes one person in the world is diagnosed with the condition.

The Leprosy Mission Australia chairman Dr Colin Martin said leprosy is still present in Australia as it’s a bacteria that’s unusual in how it works, such as replicating every 15 days rather than every 15 minutes.

This means that someone can come into contact with leprosy but not get any symptoms for years: and during that time they can still spread that bacteria, normally through coughing.

“It’s a disease of poverty and due to your nutritional status or immune capacity – the ability to clear bacteria from your system,” Martin said.

In developed western countries most people that encounter this condition will be able to combat it by themselves.

“But we still have pockets in Australia – particularly among the Indigenous population, and Arnhem land and the Kimberly – where leprosy is still endemic in very low levels and on a yearly average there are between three and six people in those areas that develop leprosy,” he said.

Leprosy in Australia comes from people who have immigrated from leprosy-endemic areas like the Middle East, Asia and Africa, and often many years after they arrive in Australia they develop clinical leprosy.

India has the highest percentage of leprosy (135,485 recorded cases (2016–17), followed by Brazil, Africa and Asia.

Martin said the theory that leprosy is eradicated is due to ignorance, lack of diagnosis and skill in treatment.

However, it is curable with a course of multi-drug therapy over 6-12 months, typically or up to two years.

We were joined by Dr Colin Martin from the Leprosy Mission Australia to tell us more.

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