Alarming! 5,004 new cases of leprosy detected across Maharashtra

Updated on Dec 15, 2017 09:29 AM IST

Leprosy, a contagious bacterial infection, was declared ‘eliminated’ at the national level a decade back.

Picture for representation(REUTERS)
Picture for representation(REUTERS)
Hindustan Times | ByAayushi Pratap, Mumbai

In what could set alarm bells ringing for the state, a total of 5,004 new leprosy cases were detected in Maharashtra this year, of which 41% cases are multibacillary cases, indicating that they are highly infectious.

Leprosy, a contagious bacterial infection, declared ‘eliminated’ at the national level a decade back, is finding its way back, worrying state doctors as more active cases are coming to light.

Among leprosy cases, multibacillary cases are the most worrisome, as these patients have a high bacterial count as compared to paucibacillary cases, in which the bacterial count is low and are non-infectious, said Dr Vivek Pai, founder of the Bombay Leprosy Project, a city-based non-governmental organisation that has been treating leprosy patients in the state for over two decades.

“Patients with multibacillary leprosy have very high bacterial count, and are active sources of transmission. In these patients, the disease is progressive compared to patients with paucibacillary infection,” he said.

To classify patients into multibacillary and paucibacillary cases, doctors conduct smear tests of the skin to examine the sample under a microscope. Alternatively, patients with less than five skin lesions are diagnosed as paucibacillary, while all others are diagnosed as multicavillary, said a state official who was involved in the survey.

Additionally, findings revealed that 11% of the total active cases were found in children, another example of active transmission of disease in the society, said experts. “Children have a lower immunity than adults, which is why they catch the infection faster. The findings suggest that the proportion of cases in children is higher than the national trend, which is 9.6% of the total number of leprosy cases,” Dr Pai said.

The active cases came to light after the state conducted a survey between September 5 and 20, 2017 covering a population of 4 crore across 22 districts. In the previous round of the survey, conducted between September 19 and October 5, 2016, 4,134 new cases where detected.

Dr Sanjeev Kamble, joint director of health (TB and Leprosy), Maharashtra, said that this year, the maximum number of cases- 514 and 345- were detected in Palghar and Gadchiroli, respectively. He, however, added that the number of cases with visible disabilities is on a decline.

“All the active cases that were detected in the survey have been put on treatment at local primary health care centres,” he said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the exact mechanism of transmission of leprosy is not known. However, it says, “at least until recently, the most widely-held belief was that the disease was transmitted by contact between cases of leprosy and healthy persons. More recently, the possibility of transmission by the respiratory route is gaining ground.”

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