Fast new test could find leprosy before damage is lasting

A simple, fast and inexpensive new test for leprosy offers hope that, even in the poorest countries, victims can be found and cured before they become permanently disabled or disfigured like the shunned lepers of yore.

American researchers developed the test, and Brazil’s drug-regulatory agency registered it last month. A Brazilian diagnostics company, OrangeLife, will manufacture it on the understanding that the price will be $1 or less.

“This will bring leprosy management out of the Dark Ages,” said Dr. William Levis, who has treated leprosy patients at a Bellevue Hospital outpatient clinic for 30 years.

Many consider leprosy, formally called Hansen’s disease, a relic of the past, but annually about 250,000 people worldwide get it; Brazil is among the hardest-hit countries, as are India, the Philippines, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The United States has 150 to 250 new diagnoses each year, mostly in immigrants. Leprosy is curable, so better detection may mean that someday it could join the short list of ailments, like polio and Guinea worm disease, on the brink of eradication, experts say.

Fast New Test Could Find Leprosy Before Damage Is Lasting |  Donald G. Mcneil Jr. | February 19, 2013