Strange Leprosy Myths and the Truth Behind Them

Leprosy is most often associated with historical figures or biblical references, and is usually accompanied by images of decaying flesh. Despite these persistent notions of the condition, leprosy is neither terrifying nor unknowable, and many of the myths surrounding leprosy are easily torn apart and debunked.

Five of the most common myths regarding leprosy have been proven untrue by decades of research and the disease once called leprosy (and now called “Hansen’s Disease) is no longer the death sentence it once was.

#1. Leprosy Is “Dead”

Leprosy and the bacteria responsible for the illness are alive and well. What was once considered a death sentence worthy of being banished, essentially, is now not a great cause for concern. Leprosy can still prove deadly, if untreated, but a simple antibiotic regimen is usually enough to overcome a leprosy diagnosis. People who have been diagnosed and treated can expect to live a normal life following effective treatment.

#2. Touching an Armadillo Means You’ll Get Leprosy

Armadillos do have the potential to carry leprosy and pass it on to humans. This does not mean, however, that touching or handling an armadillo will guarantee a leprosy diagnosis. Because most people are immune to the bacteria responsible for leprosy, it might not be particularly dangerous to handle an armadillo.

#3. Modern Leprosy Is Described in the Bible

The biblical account of leprosy is actually said to describe a host of skin conditions and general uncleanliness, rather than describing the disease most identify as leprosy. In the bible, certain people were shut off from society as a result of having leprosy; however, rather than being shut off for having an infectious illness, these people were cut off for various reasons, including a notion of being unclean or impure.

#4. Leprosy Causes Loss of Limbs

Although leprosy is often portrayed as an illness rife with decay, causing skin and entire digits to bubble up and fall off, this is not the case. Instead, leprosy causes severe nerve damage, which can lead to co-morbid conditions and increase the likelihood of developing ulcers, sores, and even gangrene.

#5. Leprosy Is Highly Contagious

Not exactly. Leprosy is certainly contagious, as exposure to the bacteria causing leprosy can cause transmission, but it is not an easy task. Approximately 95% of the population are known to have an immunity to the bacteria, which makes transmission rare. Cases of leprosy are usually associated with crowded living conditions and a lack of access to adequate healthcare, both of which can lead to diminished immunity.