What is Hansen’s Disease?

Hansen’s Disease is a bacterial infection that causes long-term illness. In the past, it was considered very contagious and severe, but it is now rare and easily treatable.

How is Hansen’s Disease spread?

It is believed that Hansen’s Disease is spread through nasal secretions or respiratory droplets. It can be passed from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes and another person breathes in the droplets.

What are the symptoms of Hansen’s Disease?

Hansen’s Disease can take between 2 and 10 years to fully develop and show signs. Hansen’s Disease affects the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes. Symptoms may include:

  • Faded/discolored skin lesions
  • Skin growths
  • Thick, stiff, dry skin
  • Severe pain
  • Numbness on infected skin
  • Muscle weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Eye problems (blindness)
  • Enlarged nerves
  • Nosebleeds
  • Ulcers/sores on feet
  • Loss of feeling/sensation of infected areas

Where is Hansen’s Disease most common?

If you have been in close contact with a person with Hansen’s Disease, it is important to get treated immediately. Once a patient receives treatment, they can no longer spread the disease. 95% of adults are unable to get the disease even when exposed to the bacteria. Leprosy is rare in the U.S., but it is common in:

  • Angola
  • Brazil
  • Central African Republic
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Federated States of Micronesia
  • India
  • Kiribati
  • Madagascar
  • Mozambique
  • Nepal
  • Republic of Marshall Islands
  • United Republic of Tanzania

How is Hansen’s Disease treated?

Hansen’s Disease is easily treatable. Treatment takes anywhere from 6 months to 2 years through antibiotics. Talk to your doctor if you believe you have been exposed to the bacteria. If you do not feel sensation in infected areas, talk to your doctor so they can provide further treatment.


In the United States, some armadillos have been proven to carry Hansen’s Disease. It is rare to get Hansen’s Disease after contact with an armadillo, but if you are concerned, visit your doctor and tell him/her your past with armadillos so they can determine if you have become infected. Do not come into contact with armadillos to fully prevent Hansen’s Disease.

For more information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/leprosy/.