The “World Leprosy Day” is observed every year on the last Sunday of January. The aim of the day is to create awareness about leprosy. Although the numbers of new cases decrease, every year approximately 200.000 persons are newly infected with leprosy, one out of ten is a child. The majority of infections occur in Brazil, India and Indonesia.
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. M. leprae multiplies very slowly and the incubation period of the disease is several months or even years. Leprosy is potentially transmitted via droplets although the exact transmission route is not fully understood. Only some infected persons develop specific symptoms.
Leprosy is curable. However, in 10% of cases, the disease is detected too late and patients must live with disabilities caused by leprosy.
The diagnosis is made according to clinical symptoms and with laboratory methods. In contrast to other mycobacteria species, M. leprae is not growing in vitro. It multiplies only in the animal model. The in vivo drug susceptibility testing requires expertise to perform and takes up to one year. Besides, smear staining of skin biopsies and nasal mucosa is often difficult, because 70 % of leprosy patients are smear-negative. Thus, molecular methods are the means of first choice today.
The molecular genetic assay GenoType LepraeDR enables the simultaneous detection of M. leprae and its antibiotic drug resistance directly from patient specimens.
The early diagnosis and effective therapy play an important role not only in the treatment of the individual patient but also in the eradication of leprosy.