Guam- Guam has averaged between 5 to 6 cases of leprosy per year. However, more cases are popping up in 2013, which has caused the Department of Public Health to spread more community awareness on this curable disease.
Hansen’s Disease (HD), better known as leprosy, is a growing cause for concern on island. Public Health doesn’t consider it an outbreak because it has been endemic. TB and HD Program Manager Cecilia Arciaga says leprosy has been around since the biblical times, but unfortunately on Guam, there are a lot of undiagnosed cases.
“As of September of 2013, we have actually 15 new leprosy cases on Guam,” said Arciaga.
According to public health’s statistics, compiled between 2003 to 2012, the most reported cases of leprosy were documented in 2003 and 2008. Although leprosy affects all ages, the age group most affected on Guam is between 25 to 44 years old. 72% of diagnosed cases are also male. Current statistics also show 94% of all diagnosed cases on Guam are people that descended from the Freely Associated States of Micronesia.
Arciaga explains leprosy is a chronic infection caused by a type of bacteria group called Mycobacterium leprae. She mentions while leprosy is similar to the disease that causes tuberculosis, it is not as contagious. The World Health Organization states it is transmitted by droplets from the nose and mouth and during close and frequent contact with untreated cases.
“Technically what it does it affects actually the nerves,” said Arciaga. “So the first symptom usually of leprosy would be a patch, which could be reddish in color, which could be pale in color.”
She points out the most significant feature of this patch is that it has no sensation and it does not itch.
“So if anybody with a patch any part of their skin that has no or decreased sensation, they really got to see a doctor right away,” said Arciaga.
She also says if a person has 5 patches or less, this type of leprosy is classified as paucibacillary. If there are more than 5 patches, it is classified as multibacillary. She emphasizes leprosy is not something you catch that develops into a full blown disease right away. Arciaga says depending on individual immune systems, a person can catch leprosy and it can stay dormant for up to 25 years. But the good news is, there is a cure and it is free.
“For a single patch of leprosy, it can be cured as short as short as 6 months,” said Arciaga. “And for multibacillary type of leprosy, you can be treated for only up to a year and you’re considered cured.”
Arciaga adds early diagnosis and multidrug treatment is the key to wipe out the disease. If left untreated, leprosy can cause deformities and permanent damage to a person’s nerves, limbs, eyes and skin. She recommends for people to visit their local physicians if they may be experiencing possible symptoms or to stop by public health.
“If you don’t have any insurance, just come by and we’ll have our physician take a look at you and we’ll work you up,” said Arciaga. “And if it’s a leprosy case, we will surely start you on treatment and rest assured, it can be cured.”
Public health is planning outreach events in the community to educate people more about this disease in the coming months.
Leprosy Cases on Guam (Provided by Public Health)
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