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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 25 November, 2014

Ireland records first known case of leprosy in decades

The HSE says the victim was a man from outside Ireland who did not contract it in this country.

File photo of the feet of a man with leprosy in East Timor. Leprosy is still relatively common in east Asia, with over 150,000 new cases a year diagnosed in India.
File photo of the feet of a man with leprosy in East Timor. Leprosy is still relatively common in east Asia, with over 150,000 new cases a year diagnosed in India.
Image: Wong Maye-E/AP

Updated, 17:40

THE HSE HAS confirmed Ireland’s first known case of leprosy for several decades.

The agency has confirmed that a case was reported to its Health Protection Surveillance Centre by the HSE’s Dublin North East division earlier this year.

The victim is a man who is believed to have contracted the disease outside of Ireland. It is thought he had suffered from the condition in the past and that the latest episode was a recurrence of this.

IrishHealth.com, reporting on the development, said it understood the victim to be a native of South America aged in his 30s.

The HSE said the man had been treated in hospital in Dublin, and that there was no cause for public concern, as the condition is not highly contagious.

The bacterium that causes the condition multiplies so slowly that the first symptoms can often only appear around five years – and sometimes up to 20 years – after a person first comes into contact with it.

The disease is transmitted by small droplets from the mouth and nose “during close and frequent contacts with untreated cases”, the HSE said – adding that it can be cured, and early treatment can prevent disability or any other long-term health concerns.

While the condition is relatively common in the developing world, new cases are exceptionally rare in this part of the world – and it is not known when the last case was formally recorded in Ireland.

HSE data suggests no cases were officially reported between 1981 and 2012.

Contrary to popular conception, the disease does not result in the loss of body parts, and mainly affects the skin and outer nerves. However, in secondary cases, fingers and toes can shorten and eventually reform.

Read: Superbugs evolving faster than medicine, worried experts warn

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