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Bid to calm fears on Lurgan leprosy case

By Connla Young

Health chiefs last night moved to calm fears after a man from Co Armagh was diagnosed with leprosy.

The man, who lives in Lurgan, is believed to be a native of East Timor.

He is understood to have developed the potentially deadly disease up to three years ago.

After being first seen by doctors at Craigavon Area Hospital, the man was referred to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London where the condition was identified.

Since then he has been travelling on a regular basis for treatment at the specialist clinic.

The man sought help after his ears, nose and lips became swollen. The victim also developed a rash and lost the feeling in his arms and legs.

It is believed he may have caught the disease, which can remain dormant for over 20 years, while living in Asia.

The victim says medical experts from across the globe have taken an interest in his case.

He told the BBC: "Every time I went to London for treatment, there'd be a doctor there from Amsterdam or France or wherever wanting to have a look at me."

"I still get tired if I exert myself but, apart from that, I'm back to normal."

The last case of leprosy recorded in the UK was in the Orkney Islands in the late 18th century.

Leprosy is contracted over long periods of exposure and is mostly confined to Third World countries.

Deformity associated with the disease generally only occurs in extreme cases left untreated.

Executive Director of the Leprosy Mission Northern Ireland, Colin Ferguson, said there was no threat to members of the public.

He added: "People really have nothing to fear. It is one of the least contagious diseases in the world. But the perception is that it is one of the most contagious.

"The chances of contracting the disease in Northern Ireland are minimal."

A spokesman from the Department of Health said they were not concerned about the case.

He added: "Leprosy is not a notifiable disease in Northern Ireland.

"A range of emergency plans, which have been produced both by the department, boards and trusts, exist to manage emergency outbreaks of diseases that are much more infectious than leprosy, such as pandemic flu and SARS."

Leprosy - the facts

* it is otherwise known as Hansen's Disease

* Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease which attacks the nervous system, particularly the nerves of the hands, feet and face

* Contrary to popular conception of the illness, it does not cause body parts to simply fall off.

* No pain is felt in affected areas and thus victims are more likely to injure themselves without realising it

* The disease is difficult to diagnose accurately even today. However the disease is curable, but the effectiveness of the treatment is dependant on an early diagnosis

* Children are more susceptible than adults to contracting the disease

* Since 1982, the WHO has recommended multi-drug therapy (MDT). Patients are given a cocktail of strong antibiotics which can completely cure the tuberculoid form of the disease within six months and the more infectious lepromatous form within two years

* According to official reports from the World Health Organisation, at the beginning of 2006, the number of cases stood at 219,826, while the number of new cases detected during 2005 was 296,499 (excluding the small number of cases in Europe)

* The best way to prevent the spread of leprosy is the early diagnosis and treatment of people who are infected. For household contacts, immediate and annual examinations are recommended for at least five years after last contact with a person who is infectious

- Damian O'Neill


From Belfast Telegraph