7 early signs of leprosy in children

Leprosy, which is a chronic infectious disease, is curable. Treatment in the early stages can prevent disability, so on World Leprosy Day, know the early signs of leprosy in children.

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease, which mostly affects the skin and peripheral nerves. It is caused by mycobacterium leprae, a type of bacteria, and if left untreated, it may cause permanent disabilities. Even though leprosy is relatively common in adults, even children are affected by it. To prevent any permanent damage, it is better to know the early signs of leprosy in children. World Leprosy Day takes place on January 28 though in India, it is observed on January 30. Keeping this in mind, let us tell you the early symptoms of leprosy to watch out for.

Two decades ago, leprosy was universally “eliminated as a public health problem”. Still, new cases are seen in different parts of the world, including India. Nine out of every 100 new cases diagnosed are kids, as per a 2019 study published in the Indian Journal of Paediatric Dermatology.

World Leprosy Day
World Leprosy Day is observed in January every year. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

What is leprosy?

Leprosy is a disease that mostly affects the skin, eyes, nose, and nerves on the outer parts of the body. Even though it can be treated, it might cause sores on the skin and harm nerves, says neurologist Dr Kunal Bahrani. Leprosy is caused by mycobacterium leprae, which are tiny bacteria that mainly spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Prolonged close contact with an infected person is the primary mode of transmission. However, you should know that leprosy is not as contagious as once thought. Poor immune response to the bacteria can lead to infection.

What are the early signs of leprosy in children?

It’s important to know the early signs of leprosy and get medical help to treat it properly and avoid problems. Here are some signs –

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1. Skin patches

Look for light or reddish patches on the skin. These patches may not hurt, but they can lose sensation, says the expert.

2. Numbness or tingling

If your child feels tingling or numbness in certain areas, especially in the hands, feet, or face, it might be an early sign of leprosy.

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3. Muscle weakness

Leprosy can cause weakness in muscles. This can lead to difficulty in grasping objects or performing simple tasks.

4. Eye problems

Your child may have watery or dry eyes. Your kid may also have blinking difficulties, so these may indicate leprosy affecting facial nerves.

5. Nosebleeds

Frequent nosebleeds can occur if your child has leprosy. They may happen due to damage to nasal tissues caused by leprosy.

6. Thickened nerves

Feel for lumps or bumps under the skin. Check areas around the ears and cheeks, which could be thickened nerves.

7. Sores

Leprosy may cause slow-healing sores. It can lead to deformities if left untreated, says the expert.

These signs arise because leprosy is a bacterial infection affecting nerves, skin, and other organs, leading to sensory and motor impairments. Early detection is crucial to prevent complications. If you notice any skin changes or numbness, consult your doctor for proper evaluation and care. Early intervention is key to managing leprosy and ensuring a healthier future for your child.

What are the different types of leprosy?

Leprosy has two main types – Paucibacillary and Multibacillary. In Paucibacillary leprosy, only a few bacteria are present, causing milder symptoms. Multibacillary leprosy, on the other hand, has more bacteria, leading to severe symptoms, shares Dr Bahrani.

What can be done to prevent leprosy?

Leprosy can be prevented by promoting good hygiene and early detection. Regular handwashing and maintaining cleanliness help reduce the risk.

Woman washing hands with soap
Leprosy can be prevented by promoting good hygiene. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

You should also stay informed about leprosy symptoms and encourage others to do the same. By fostering awareness, practicing cleanliness, and seeking timely medical help, people can significantly prevent leprosy.

What’s the treatment for leprosy?

After spotting the signs followed by diagnosis, your child will be treated for leprosy. It entails an aggregate of antibiotics, mainly dapsone, rifampicin, and clofazimine, says the expert. These medicinal drugs are provided free of cost by health authorities globally. Depending on the severity, your child may have to undergo a long-term course. It may span many months to years. It’s important to complete the prescribed treatment to ensure the complete treatment of the bacteria causing leprosy. Regular check-ups are essential so that the progress gets monitored.

It is all about early diagnosis and proper treatment, so watch out for the signs of leprosy.