Leprosy may be misdiagnosed in UK

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A notice set to be issued to doctors will indicate that leprosy is possibly being misdiagnosed because it is so rare in the UK.

Cardiff dermatologists have reports two cases of the disease in males who had moved from Asia to Britain and were thought to have common skin complaints.

They state that the disease which was historically linked to fear and stigma, is curable, but may now be viewed as a different condition due to the wide range of symptoms.

Ausama Atwan who will raise the concern at the British Association of Dermatologists’ Glasgow conference stated that they are not trying to cause alarm, but doctors should consider this when treating patients, particularly those who have come from endemic countries, with changes to skin sensation and pigmentation, and unexplained and persistent lesions.

Atwan explained that the rarity of the disease in Europe could cause a misdiagnosis and pose health risks in the future for patients. No confirmed cases of the disease have been reported in England and Wales for six decades. However, there have been 129 reported cases from people who had lived in endemic countries, often south Asia, during 2001 and 2010. Public Health England stated that a further 38 cases were reported during 2011 and 2013. Close to 233000 global cases were reported during 2012.

The cases which were identified at the University Hospital of Wales during 2010 and 2013 involved males from Asia. One was aged 25 and experienced sensation on the left side of his face as well as skin colour changes. He was first treated for a rash and skin infection. The other male, aged 35, experienced skin lightening over his body, circular lesions on the legs and raised red patches on his forehead. He had been diagnosed as having a particular type of eczema.

Leprosy is not a highly contagious disease, however the bacteria multiplies slowly, allowing the disease to take about 20 years to become apparent. Reduced levels of circulation, muscle loss and eventual disability and limb deformity are apparent in a limited number of cases. Early detection and correct multi-drug treatment can cure the disease. New trials for a vaccine will be undertaken by American researchers next year.

PHE’s expert on leprosy, Professor Ibrahim Abubakar, said that although the disease is extremely rare in England and Wales, it is vital that those with suspected leprosy obtain an early diagnosis and expert treatment.

Image Credit: moyerphotos

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