Houston Health Department

Hansens Disease (Leprosy) -- for Spanish click here

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Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases known to humankind. It is also known as Hansen’s disease, named after Norwegian physician, Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen, who debunked the prevailing notion of the time that leprosy was a hereditary disease. He showed that the disease had a bacterial cause instead. For thousands of years, people with leprosy have been stigmatized and considered to be at the extreme margins of the society. The aim of World Leprosy Day is to change this attitude and increase public awareness of the fact that leprosy can now be easily prevented and cured.

The date for World Leprosy Day was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of Indian freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948. During his lifetime, Mahatma Gandhi worked tirelessly towards the betterment of people afflicted with leprosy.

More information below......

The primary goal of the Hansen's disease Program is to prevent deformity and disability from Hansen's disease through early diagnosis and treatment.

Houston Hansen Clinic - call to obtain care, for referrals or for more information - 832.393.4804 and 832.393.4799

Hansen’s disease (Leprosy) is a bacterial disease of the skin and nerves. Early signs or symptoms may include:

  • A rash on the trunk of the body and/or extremities
  • Reddish or pale colored skin patches which do not itch and which may have lost some feeling
  • Skin patches which get larger or do not go away, despite medical treatment
  • Bumps and thickening of the skin, especially on the face, ears and the extremities
  • Loss of feeling or weakness of the fingers or toes
  • A painful nerve or weak muscles of the lower arm or leg
  • Unexplained tingling or numbness in the extremities


The Hansen’s disease bacteria infect skin and sometimes other tissues, including the eye, the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract (the nose) and sometimes the testes. Hansen disease always involves the peripheral nerves. If untreated nerve damage can result in crippling of hands and feet and even blindness. Early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to preventing Hansen disease-related disabilities.

It is difficult to contract Hansen Disease even for the small percentage of people who have no protection from the germ that causes Hansen’s disease. Diagnosis in the U.S. is often delayed because health care providers are unaware of Hansen’s disease (leprosy) and its symptoms. Although the mode of transmission of Hansen disease remains uncertain, most investigators think that the bacteria, M. leprae is usually spread from person to person in respiratory droplets. The odds for family contacts of leprosy patients to develop leprosy are thought to be 3-10 times higher than for those of other people.


See full size imageOne in six armadillos found in Texas and Louisiana coastal marshes harbor leprosy. Leprosy infected armadillos shed M. leprae to their environment and even casual association with armadillos can expose a person to M. leprae. The raw organ flesh or blood of infected armadillos contains large numbers of leprosy bacilli and contact with armadillos from some low lying environments in Louisiana and Texas may present some increased risk for human infection. At right is a picture of the 9-banded Armadillo.


Early diagnosis and treatment of Hansen's disease may prevent the development of severe disabilities as well as prevent the spread of the disease to close contacts. This infection is treated with certain specific antibiotics, which generally takes from 12 months to two years and is very effective. Treatment renders even the most severe cases non-infectious within a few days of treatment and patients need not be isolated. The disease does not spread easily and is not spread through casual contact. A person with Hansen's disease can continue to work and lead an active life.

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