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Leprosy, or Hansen's disease, is still a major health problem in the Orient.
Efforts to control and eradicate this ancient disease began centuries ago with isolation programs. Substantial progress came in the 1940s and 1950s with the development of specific treatment regimens using sulfones, particularly dapsone. Nonetheless, experts estimate there are as many as 15 million leprosy patients worldwide. Even in the United States, the small number of reported cases is increasing owing to importations from developing countries (see accompanying story, page 18).
The failure to eradicate leprosy is not readily explained. The disease, however, is most prevalent in countries with limited medical resources. Additionally, as many as 5% of patients infected with the etiologic agent, Mycobacterium leprae, now do not respond to dapsone therapy because of primary or secondary resistance.
Hence, a vigorous international effort in prevention, detection, and treatment of leprosy is under way. The World Health Organization,
Schauf V. East-West efforts key into leprosy research. JAMA. 1984;251(1):15–18. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340250007002
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