Main AHCA Website

AHCA’s main website for information on Medicaid, Health Quality Assurance and the Florida Center for Health Information and Transparency.

Go >

Florida Health Information Network

This website provides information and resources relating to AHCA’s initiatives for Health Information Technology and Health Information Exchange.

Go >

Provides health education and information to compare and locate health care providers in Florida to make well-informed health care decisions.

Go >
AHCA Network of Websites

Health Education

Health Encyclopedia

Search the Health Encyclopedia



Leprosy is an infectious disease that has been known since biblical times. This disease causes skin sores, nerve damage, and muscle weakness that gets worse over time.

Alternative Names

Hansen disease


Leprosy is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. It is not very contagious and has a long incubation period (time before symptoms appear), which makes it hard to know where or when someone caught the disease. Children are more likely than adults to get the disease.

Experts believe that the bacteria spread when a person breathes in tiny airborne droplets released when someone with leprosy coughs or sneezes. The bacteria may also be passed on by coming into contact with the nasal fluids of a person with leprosy. Leprosy has 2 common forms: tuberculoid and lepromatous. Both forms produce sores on the skin. However, the lepromatous form is more severe. It causes large lumps and bumps (nodules).

Leprosy is common in many countries worldwide, and in temperate, tropical, and subtropical climates. About 100 cases per year are diagnosed in the United States. Most cases are in the south, California, Hawaii, and U.S. islands, and Guam.

Most people who come in contact with the bacteria don't develop the disease. This is because their immune system is able to fight off the bacteria.

Drug-resistant Mycobacterium leprae and an increased numbers of cases worldwide have led to global concern for this disease.


Symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

Tests that are done include:

The lepromin skin test can be used to tell the 2 different forms of leprosy apart, but the test isn't used to diagnose the disease.


Several antibiotics are used to kill the bacteria that cause the disease. These include dapsone, rifampin, clofazamine, fluoroquinolones, macrolides, and minocycline. More than 1 antibiotic is often given together.

Aspirin, prednisone, or thalidomide is used to control inflammation.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Diagnosing the disease early is important. Early treatment limits damage, prevents a person from spreading the disease, and reduces long-term complications.

Possible Complications

Health problems that may result from leprosy include:

  • Disfigurement
  • Muscle weakness
  • Permanent nerve damage in the arms and legs
  • Loss of sensation

People with long-term leprosy may lose the use of their hands or feet due to repeated injury because they lack feeling in those areas.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of leprosy, especially if you have had contact with someone who has the disease. Cases of leprosy in the United States are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


People on long-term medicine become noninfectious. This means they do not transmit the organism that causes the disease.


Renault CA. Ernst JD. Mycobacterium leprae (leprosy). In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 252.

Walker SL, Withington SG, Lockwood DNJ. Leprosy. In: Farrar J, Hotez PJ, Junghanss T, Kang G, Lalloo D, White NJ, eds. Manson's Tropical Diseases. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 41.

Review Date:9/10/2015
Reviewed By:Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

The Agency for Health Care Administration (Agency) and this website do not claim the information on, or referred to by, this site is error free. This site may include links to websites of other government agencies or private groups. Our Agency and this website do not control such sites and are not responsible for their content. Reference to or links to any other group, product, service, or information does not mean our Agency or this website approves of that group, product, service, or information.

Additionally, while health information provided through this website may be a valuable resource for the public, it is not designed to offer medical advice. Talk with your doctor about medical care questions you may have.

Outcome Data

No data available for this condition/procedure.

Health Encyclopedia

More Features

We Appreciate Your Feedback
1. Did you find this information useful?

2. Would you recommend this website to family and friends?