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Leprosy or Hansen’s Disease: Contagious and Concerning by Any Name

Leprosy Vaccine

Discover how nurse practitioners can improve outcomes for patients with this infectious disease.

Hansen’s disease (HD), also known as leprosy, is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae, which may cause respiratory and nerve damage. The disease is rare in the U.S. — only an estimated 150 to 200 cases are reported annually — and because of its relative obscurity, leprosy is frequently misdiagnosed. In fact, persons with leprosy often see multiple health care providers before they are properly diagnosed and treated. To better equip nurse practitioners (NPs) with important information about leprosy and other infectious diseases, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) offers continuing education (CE) activities and clinical practice resources. Read on to learn more about leprosy and the role of the NP in diagnosing and treating it.

Exploring Leprosy’s Impact

Leprosy is thousands of years old, and it is believed to be transmitted via contact with airborne droplets from the mouth or nose of an infected person. After contracting the disease, persons with leprosy may not begin showing symptoms for several years. Symptoms of leprosy — according to The Journal for Nurse Practitioners article “Burden of Leprosy” by Rebecca D. Martin, DNP, FNP; Ivorry F. Gomez, DNP, FNP; and Lori A. Spies, FAANP, PhD, FNP-C, APRN — may include skin lesions, but, “HD is known as a great imitator and may present with a variety of manifestations. Classically, HD manifests with hypopigmented, hypoesthetic lesions and peripheral nerve enlargement, with or without neuropathy.” Leprosy, when left untreated, can damage the eyes, skin and nerves; however, with early diagnosis and treatment, leprosy is now curable.

The number of new leprosy cases is currently declining, with the World Health Organization reporting a global drop in new cases from 407, 791 in 2004 to 127,558 in 2020. Despite this positive trend, leprosy has not been eradicated and new cases are reported every year. As expert clinicians on the front lines of health care delivery, NPs play an important role in ensuring the timely and accurate diagnosis of leprosy, treating patients who have HD and ending the stigma associated with this disease. Be a part of the solution by reviewing current information about leprosy and adding HD to your differential diagnosis.

Learn Even More About Leprosy and Other Infectious Diseases

To obtain the latest updates on leprosy diagnosis and treatment, complete “Leprosy: Yes it is in the U.S. and What You Need to Know” in the AANP CE Center. This activity offers 0.85 contact hours of CE credit, 0.15 of which may be applied toward pharmacology. AANP members get more, including a 60% cost savings on this activity!

Beginning on Nov. 1, AANP’s new Course of the Month series will provide members free access to one featured CE activity per month, presented by NP experts who are also AANP Community members. This new benefit allows you to earn up to 12 more free CE credits over the course of a year.

If you want to learn even more about infectious diseases, consider listening to the first two episodes of the NP Pulse: The Voice of the Nurse Practitioner® podcast, featuring a two-part conversation with Drs. Hudson Garrett and Ruth Carrico as they discuss how NPs can take the lead in navigating infectious disease control. You can engage in discussions with NPs who specialize in the treatment of infectious diseases by joining the AANP Community on Infectious Disease and HIV.

Become a trusted resource for your patients with relevant, evidence-based educational experiences.