Doctors treat man for leprosy but say public not at risk
A Brazilian man working in Ireland has been diagnosed with a form of leprosy after attending his doctor complaining of shooting pains and an itchy rash.
The 37-year-old had doctors puzzled after he turned up at a surgery in Co Meath – GPs found it difficult to tie the two complaints together.
Although images of people suffering from the ancient disease are familiar through aid appeals for the Third World, it was not a condition doctors at the Medical Centre in Abbey Road in Navan, Co Meath, expected.
He had a rash around his lower abdomen and trunk and when questioned if he had ever experienced anything like it before, he revealed he had been treated for a similar problem 10 years earlier in Brazil.
Dr Connor Gallagher, a GP in the practice, said the patient was unsure of the English term for the condition and wrote "Hanseniase", which directly translates as "leprosy."
Leprosy has a long incubation period – up to seven years – and on reviewing the diagnosis, the doctors decided it needed to be investigated further and referred him to the infectious diseases unit of St James's Hospital.
Dr Gallagher has, along with infectious disease specialist Dr Katie McFaul ,detailed the highly unusual case in the journal 'Forum', produced by the Irish College of General Practitioners.
Leprosy, which mainly affects the skin, is not a killer and can easily be cured today. But in countries where proper medical care is scarce it can lead to damaged nerves if left untreated.
Dr Gallagher told the Irish Independent that the condition does not pose a public health risk in a country like Ireland, and there is no threat to other people.
"It is very treatable," he added.
If left untreated, the disease can cause permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes.
"The effects are largely due to loss of sensation, which can lead to undetected trauma and secondary infection, resulting in characteristic limb and facial deformity in severe forms of the condition," said the doctors.
The patient involved is now on a course of antibiotic treatment and is expected to have to be on the medication for about two years.
The doctors pointed out that the disease has affected humanity for over 4,000 years and was present in the ancient civilisations of China, Egypt and India.
"World Health Organisation figures show around 219,000 new cases were reported in 2011, with the highest prevalence in countries such as India and Brazil.
"It is uncommon in Ireland, where it is a notifiable disease. The risk of contagion in new cases is small," they added. However, it is proving difficult to eradicate it globally because of antibiotic resistance.
The doctors added: "This may be an extraordinary consultation to present as a case report from Irish general practice.
"It is, however, an interesting example of the sort of tropical illnesses that can occur in an ever-changing multicultural Ireland," the doctors said.