Treatment of Leprosy
The most widely used drug for leprosy has been dapsone (DDS). However, the emergence of dapsone-resistant strains prompted the introduction of multidrug therapy, or MDT. MDT combines dapsone, rifampin (Rifadin; also known as rifampicin), and clofazimine (Lamprene), all of which are powerful antibacterial drugs. Patients with MB leprosy are usually treated with all three drugs, while patients with PB leprosy are only given rifampin and dapsone. Usually three months after starting treatment, a patient ceases being infectious, though not everyone with this disease is necessarily infectious before treatment. Depending on the type of leprosy, the time required for treatment may vary from six months to two years or more.
Each of the drugs has minor side effects. Dapsone may cause nausea, dizziness, palpitations, jaundice and rash. A doctor should be contacted immediately if a rash develops. Dapsone also interacts with the second drug, rifampin. Rifampin increases the metabolizing of dapsone in the body, requiring an adjustment of the dapsone dosage.
Leprosy patients should be aware that treatment itself can cause a potentially serious immune system response called a lepra reaction. When antibiotics kill M. leprae, antigens (the proteins on the surface of the organism that initiate the body's immune system response) are released from the dying bacteria. In some people, when the antigens combine with the antibodies to M. Leprae in the bloodstream, a reaction called erythema nodosum leprosum may occur, resulting in new lesions and peripheral nerve damage. Cortisonetype medications and, increasingly, thalidomide are used to minimize the effects of lepra reactions.
Leprosy is curable; however, the deformities and nerve damage associated with leprosy are often irreversible. Preventions or rehabilition of these defects is an integral part of management of the disease. Reconstructive surgery, aimed at preventing and correcting deformities, offers the greatest hope for disabled patients.
Comprehensive care involves teaching patients to care for themselves. If the patients have significant nerve damage or are at high risk of developing deformities, they must be taught to take care of their insensitive limbs, similar to diabetics with lower leg nerve damage. Lacking the sensation of pain in many cases, the patients should constantly check themselves to identify cuts and bruises. If adequate care is not taken, these wounds become festering sores and a source of dangerous infection. Physiotherapy exercises are taught to the patients to maintain a range of movement in finger joints and prevent the deformities from worsening. Prefabricated standardized splints are available and are extremely effective in correcting and preventing certain common deformities in leprosy. Special kinds of footwear have been designed for patients with insensitive feet in order to prevent or minimize the progression of foot ulcers.
By early diagnosis and appropriate treatment of infected individuals, even a disease as ancient as leprosy can be controlled. People who are in immediate contact with the leprosy patient should be tested for leprosy. Annual examinations should also be conducted on these people for a period of five years following their last contact with an infectious patient.