Two cases of leprosy confirmed in Portugal

Cases “imported” from Brazil where disease is endemic

Between March and April this year two cases of Hansen’s disease, better known as leprosy, were reported to health authorities in Portugal.

Both cases were in “individuals originating from Brazil” where the disease is still endemic.

Without specifying where these individuals are living, a source for the DGS (general health inspectorate) has said that both have started the appropriate treatment.

Wider reports however suggest the cases hail from Porto and Madeira

RTP (national television channel) carried news on a confirmed case in Porto this morning, while health services in Madeira released details of a case in the archipelago on Wednesday.

This latter case concerns an adult woman who has been living in the autonomous region since January 2022, said the Madeiran regional health directorate, stressing that leprosy “does not spread easily, so it does not require isolation (…) “treatment is very effective and prophylaxis is only recommended in the case of very close and prolonged contacts”.

Leprosy is eradicated in Portugal, according to the DGS. Cases which are reported annually “are always imported”.

Portugal gets an average of two to six cases of leprosy per year, very often from Brazil where “several cases are reported annually”.

Leprosy was once feared as a highly contagious/ devastating disease. People found to have it were ‘banished’ often to live in ‘leper colonies’*. But thanks to modern medicine, it has become a disease that is easy to treat. It is caused by a slow-growing bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae which, if left untreated, can affect nerves, skin, eyes and the lining of the nose, to the extent that sufferers are left crippled, blind and in worst case scenarios their extremities become gangrenous.

*according to Wikipedia, traditional isolated (leper) colonies continue to exist in India, China, and some other countries.

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