Leprosy in Mexico: Prevalence, Awareness, and Treatment

Learn about the prevalence of leprosy in Mexican states, the need for awareness campaigns, and treatment options. Find out about the history of leprosy, its signs and symptoms, and how important it is to get a diagnosis as soon as possible to prevent disfigurement and disability.

Leprosy in Mexico: Prevalence, Awareness, and Treatment
The importance of awareness campaigns to combat leprosy and bring treatment to patients in Mexico. Image: Wikimedia

Leprosy cases are still present in several Mexican states, with Sinaloa, Michoacán, Nayarit, Nuevo León, and Guerrero having the highest concentration. Other affected states include Zacatecas, Coahuila, Campeche, Yucatan, Durango, San Luis Potosi, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Mexico City (Tlalpan, Xochimilco), Colima, and Jalisco.

Awareness campaigns are necessary to educate people that leprosy is curable and to bring treatment to patients, says Maria del Rosario Morales Espinosa, an academic from UNAM School of Medicine.

Once treated, patients can lead normal lives. Preventive treatment for people in contact with the sick can help control the disease. Leprosy is not eliminated, and awareness campaigns are essential to combating it, especially in marginalized and poor populations. The World Health Organization aims to have one infected person for every 10,000 inhabitants.

Leprosy is caused by Mycobacterium leprae and can take up to 20 years to manifest. Although rare, it produces stigma and discrimination for those affected. Throughout history, leprosy patients faced social ostracism, and in the past, they were often sent to live in subhuman conditions.

Even today, the social stigma persists, and patients are often hidden by their families. Leprosy affects men more often than women in a ratio of two to one, and young adults are more susceptible to long-term infections, with deformities appearing later in life.

Although the incidence is low, the disease produces stigma and discrimination for the sick person. Historically, leprosy patients faced the deformities generated by the disease without help, leading to stigma and exclusion. The bacterium is believed to be transmitted via the inhalation of drops of saliva from someone infected.

The symptoms are not clear, making diagnosis difficult. A dermatological lesion with a loss of sensitivity in the surrounding area can be a sign of leprosy. The diagnosis involves various tests. Early diagnosis is critical to avoiding deformity and disability. Polychemotherapy is the treatment of choice. World Leprosy Day aims to raise awareness and reduce stigma.

Leprosy is a neglected disease.
Leprosy is a neglected disease. Credit: UNAM

Leprosy: A Chronic Infectious Disease with a 4,000-Year History

Leprosy, or Hansen's disease, is a chronic infectious disease produced by the Mycobacterium leprae bacillus that mainly affects the peripheral nerves and the skin but also affects other sites such as the mucous membranes, eyes, bones, and testicles. Its most serious complications range from disfigurement to disability.

It is known that this disease has been around for 4,000 years because, in 2009, the bones of an adult man who had this infection were found during an archaeological dig in Rajasthan, India.

The contagion occurs between a patient with the possibility of transmitting the disease (since not all those suffering from leprosy eliminate bacilli outside their body, a possibility that is eliminated by administering medication) and a healthy susceptible person, which can occur in a non-spontaneous manner. That is to say, a sick person that acts as an infectious agent and another healthy person with a special predisposition must be conjugated for a long period so that the contagion happens.

Leprosy is curable, like any other infectious disease.
Leprosy is curable, like any other infectious disease. Credit: UNAM

The treatment to cure the disease consists of the oral intake of the drugs dapsone and, at the same time, rifampicin; however, it is always recommended to go to the doctor to avoid self-medication since side effects can exist in the intake. The treatment of the disease should be prolonged for six months to two years.

Part of the fear-mongering about this infection comes from the fact that the media has been talking about another pandemic in Mexico, the coronavirus. However, it's important to know that the severity, how it spreads, and how it's treated are all very different.