Woman’s rash was ac­tu­ally lep­rosy

Sunday Territorian - - NEWS - JILL POULSEN

“Our pa­tient was di­ag­nosed rel­a­tively quickly” NT CEN­TRE FOR DIS­EASE CON­TROL

A TER­RI­TORY woman has been di­ag­nosed with lep­rosy.

The 54-year-old, who mi­grated from the Philip­pines over 20 years ago, pre­sented to a der­ma­tol­ogy out­pa­tient clinic com­plain­ing of a three­month his­tory of rash.

She de­scribed a painful, red skin le­sion to the left el­bow that had been grad­u­ally in­creas­ing in size.

She was di­ag­nosed with the dis­ease and treat­ment was started im­me­di­ately.

The rare case was high­lighted in a re­port by the The North­ern Ter­ri­tory Dis­ease Con­trol re­leased in June.

“Our pa­tient was di­ag­nosed rel­a­tively quickly, as on av­er­age pa­tients re­port two years of symp­toms prior to di­ag­no­sis,” the re­port said.

Lep­rosy is a con­ta­gious, but cur­able, dis­ease that af­fects the skin, mu­cous mem­branes, and nerves, caus­ing dis­coloura­tion and lumps on the skin and, in se­vere cases, dis­fig­ure­ment and de­for­mi­ties.

Lep­rosy rates in Aus­tralia are low, less than one case per one mil­lion pop­u­la­tion) and the dis­ease pre­dom­i­nantly oc­curs in im­mi­grants from lep­rosy en­demic ar­eas and indige­nous Aus­tralians.

World­wide lep­rosy cur­rently af­fects about 1.15 mil­lion peo­ple, with the ma­jor­ity of cases orig­i­nat­ing in In­dia, Brazil, In­done­sia, Nige­ria, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

The dis­ease is thought to be trans­mit­ted via droplets from the nose and mouth dur­ing close and fre­quent con­tact with af­fected in­di­vid­u­als.

How­ever, less than one per cent of the pop­u­la­tion that comes into con­tact with it will de­velop the dis­ease.

Med­i­cal ad­vance­ments in treat­ing the dis­ease have come along since the day lep­rosar­i­ums were used to sep­a­rate suf­fer­ers from the gen­eral pub­lic.

In Dar­win, a site on Chan­nel Is­land orig­i­nally built for use as a Com­mon­wealth Quar­an­tine Sta­tion was turned into a lep­rosar­ium in 1931.

Hun­dreds, pos­si­bly thou­sands, of mostly indige­nous peo­ple, in­clud­ing chil­dren, suf­fer­ing lep­rosy were re­moved from their homes across the North­ern Ter­ri­tory and sent by the Com­mon­wealth Govern­ment to iso­la­tion at the Chan­nel Is­land Lep­rosar­ium be­tween 1931 and 1955.

There was no known cure for lep­rosy at the time and those suf­fer­ing the in­fec­tious dis­ease were deemed “lep­ers” and out­casts of so­ci­ety.

Once ban­ished to the is­land, many were sub­jected to forced labour and held cap­tive there for years.

An es­ti­mated 140 peo­ple never made it out of the Chan­nel Is­land Lep­rosar­ium alive, dy­ing an early death from a range of ill­nesses and a lack of med­i­cal care.

At least 60 bod­ies are thought to re­main in un­marked graves on the is­land.

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