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National Hansen's Disease (Leprosy) Program

Hansen's disease, also known as leprosy, is a chronic bacterial disease that primarily affects the skin, peripheral nerves and upper airway. Feared as a highly contagious and devastating disease, it is well established that Hansen's disease (leprosy) is not highly transmissible, is very treatable, and, with early diagnosis and treatment, is not disabling.

Compiled statistics reveal that Hansen's disease (leprosy) is rare in the U.S. There are currently approximately 6,500 cases; about 3,300 require active medical management.

People with Hansen's disease (leprosy) can generally continue their normal work and other activities uninterrupted while they are under treatment, which may last several years.

Yet Hansen's disease (leprosy) remains the most misunderstood human infectious disease. The stigma long associated with the disease still exists in most of the world and the psychological and social effects may be more difficult to deal with than the actual physical illness.

Hansen's Disease (Leprosy) Facts

  • Most (95 percent) of the human population is not susceptible to infection with M. leprae, the bacteria that causes Hansen's disease (leprosy).
  • Treatment with standard antibiotic drugs is very effective.
  • Patients become noninfectious after taking only a few doses of medication and need not be isolated from family and friends.
  • Diagnosis in the U.S. is often delayed because health care providers are unaware of Hansen's disease (leprosy) and its symptoms.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment prevents nerve involvement, the hallmark of Hansen's disease (leprosy), and the disability it causes.
  • Without nerve involvement, Hansen's disease (leprosy) is a minor skin disease.
  • 166 new cases were reported in the U.S. in 2005 (the most recent year for which data are available.
  • Most (100 or 60%) of these new cases were reported in
    • California
    • Louisiana
    • Massachusetts
    • New York
    • Texas

The National Hansen's Disease (Leprosy) Program

The National Hansen's Disease Program is the epicenter of Hansen's disease (leprosy) care, research and information in the U.S.

  • Cares for patients at its facility at the Ochsner Medical Center in Baton Rouge.
  • Oversees an ambulatory care network with 11 clinics in seven States and Puerto and makes referrals for treatment.
  • Consults with private sector physicians and accepts referrals for patients with Hansen's disease (leprosy)-related complications.
  • Advances treatment and educates medical professionals about Hansen's disease (leprosy).
  • Conducts research intramural Hansen's disease (leprosy) biomedical research.
  • Reaches out to medical professionals with a comprehensive Hansen's disease (leprosy) training program.

The U.S. Government established the predecessor of the National Hansen's Disease (Leprosy) Program, the National Leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana, in 1917. Outpatient clinics were established in 1981.

Other Hansen's Disease (Leprosy) Resources

Lower Extremity Amputation Prevention and Treatment of the Neuropathic Foot (Online Course)

Comprehensive Management of the Neuropathic Foot Seminar
(printer-friendly form)

Disease Listing: Hansen's Disease (Leprosy) (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention)

Hansen's Disease (Leprosy) 1997 Case Definition (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention)

Leprosy (National Institutes of Health)

Leprosy Elimination/Leprosy Today Exit Disclaimer (World Health Organization)

International Leprosy Association Exit Disclaimer

International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations Exit Disclaimer

The STAR, Exit Disclaimer a publication educating the public on Hansen's Disease