How Is Leprosy Transmitted?

With all the folklore surrounding the disease, people may wonder, "How is leprosy transmitted?" Factors that may influence the spread of disease include environmental conditions, a person's degree of susceptibility, and the extent of exposure. Scientists still do not completely understand how leprosy is transmitted. However, it is known that the disease cannot be transmitted from a mother to her unborn baby or through sexual contact.

How Is Leprosy Transmitted? -- An Overview

Despite first discovering Mycobacterium leprae (the bacteria that causes leprosy) in 1873, leprosy research scientists still do not completely understand how leprosy is transmitted.
 
Most scientists believe that leprosy is transmitted from one person to another in infected respiratory droplets. While this may be one way in which the disease is spread, more than 50 percent of the people who develop leprosy have no confirmed contact with an infected person. Factors that may influence how leprosy is transmitted include:
 
  • Environmental conditions
  • The degree of susceptibility of the person
  • The extent of exposure.
 

How Is Leprosy Transmitted to Household Contacts?

People who live within the same household as a person with untreated leprosy have an eightfold increased risk of developing the disease. This is due to genetic factors relating to susceptibility and/or prolonged intimate contact. It is important to note that the spouse is the least at-risk familial member. The people who are at the greatest risk of leprosy transmission are:
 
  • Parents of someone with leprosy
  • Children of someone with leprosy
  • Brothers or sisters of someone with leprosy.
 

How Is Leprosy Transmitted? -- Other Possible Modes

Leprosy cannot be transmitted from a mother to her unborn baby, and people cannot get leprosy through sexual contact.
 
Although feral armadillos and nonhuman primates are known to carry Mycobacterium leprae, leprosy transmission from animals to humans has only been confirmed in a couple of leprosy cases and is otherwise quite rare.
 
 

Leprosy Information

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