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Information for Health Care Workers

nurse looking in a notebookThis chronic infectious disease usually affects the skin and peripheral nerves but has a wide range of possible clinical manifestations.

Patients are classified as having paucibacillary or multibacillary Hansen's disease.

Paucibacillary Hansen's disease is characterized by one or a few hypopigmented skin macules that exhibit loss of sensation.

Multibacillary Hansen's disease is associated with:

  • multiple symmetrically-distributed skin lesions that might not exhibit loss of sensation
  • nodules
  • plaques
  • thickened dermis
  • frequent involvement of the nasal mucosa resulting in nasal congestion and epistaxis

Etiologic Agent

The agent, Mycobacterium leprae (a bacillus), multiplies very slowly (approximately every 13 days) and mainly affects the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes.

The organism has never been grown in bacteriologic media or cell culture, but has been grown in mouse foot pads and nine-banded armadillos.

Laboratory Diagnostics

  • Some serological tests have been developed and promoted by some investigators, but they lack sufficient sensitivity and specificity to be used as diagnostic tests and for this reason are not used in the United States.
  • A skin biopsy is needed to make a definitive diagnosis
  • National Hansen’s Disease Program provides diagnostic services
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