Characteristics of Leprosy
In most cases, it takes three to five years for characteristics of leprosy to appear, and the disease usually affects the skin and peripheral nerves. However, symptoms and their severity can vary among patients based on the type of leprosy. For example, characteristics of leprosy associated with the mild form of the disease include skin stiffness, eye problems, and muscle pain.
When a person becomes infected with the bacteria that cause leprosy (Mycobacterium leprae), the bacteria begin to multiply within the body. After three to five years, symptoms of leprosy will usually begin. This period between becoming infected and the start of symptoms is the "leprosy incubation period." Although the incubation period for leprosy is typically between three and five years, it can range from six months to several decades.
Leprosy usually affects the skin and peripheral nerves. However, once characteristics of leprosy begin to appear, there can be a wide variety of symptoms and severity. Symptoms of leprosy will also vary based on the form of the disease that a person has (tuberculoid leprosy versus lepromatous leprosy).
Characteristics of Tuberculoid Leprosy
Tuberculoid leprosy (also known as paucibacillary leprosy) is the mild form of leprosy. Early characteristics of tuberculoid leprosy can include one or more light or slightly red patches of skin that appear on the trunk or extremities. This may be associated with a decrease in light-touch sensation in the area of the rash.
Other characteristics of tuberculoid leprosy include:
- Severe pain
- Muscle weakness, especially in the hands and feet
- Skin stiffness and dryness
- Loss of fingers and toes
- Eye problems, which lead to blindness
- Enlarged nerves, especially those around the elbow (ulnar nerve) and knee (peroneal nerve).
It is important to note that not all people with leprosy lose their fingers and toes. With early diagnosis and leprosy treatment, many of these symptoms can be prevented. Many patients with tuberculoid leprosy can even self-heal without benefit of treatment. In order to prevent problems with fingers or toes, people should avoid injury and infections to these areas and take their prescribed leprosy medicines.