Diseases Home > How Can You Catch Leprosy?

How can you catch leprosy? It is generally believed that the disease is transmitted from person to person through infected respiratory droplets. Once a person becomes infected with the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae, they immediately begin to multiply within the body. Since they grow slowly, it can take three to five years for symptoms to appear once a person catches leprosy.

How Can You Catch Leprosy? -- An Overview

Because folklore surrounding the disease is still circulating, many people ask, “How can you catch leprosy?” Leprosy occurs when a person becomes infected with the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae.

How Can You Catch Leprosy? -- Mycobacterium Leprae

Mycobacterium leprae are part of the family Mycobacteriaceae, which is the same family as the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis). Mycobacterium leprae grow slowly and mainly affect the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes. Even in severe cases of leprosy, Mycobacterium leprae destruction is limited to the:
  • Skin
  • Peripheral nerves
  • Front portion of the eyes
  • Upper respiratory passages
  • Testes
  • Hands
  • Feet.
Most scientists believe that you can catch leprosy through infected respiratory droplets. While this may be one mode of leprosy transmission, over half of the people who develop leprosy have no confirmed contact with an infected person. Other factors that may play a role in a person developing leprosy include:
  • Genetics
  • The extent of exposure
  • Environmental conditions.
When a person becomes infected with Mycobacterium leprae, the bacteria begin to multiply within the body. After three to five years, leprosy symptoms can 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.
(Click Leprosy Symptoms for more information about the symptoms associated with this disease.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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