Monday, July 15, 2013

Leprosy in ancient times

Most medical historians believe that leprosy originated in Egypt, and the leprosy bacillus called mycobacterium leprae has been found in at least one mummy that also showed the typical scaly evidence of the disease on its skin.

It probably first moved eastward to India and China and the Pacific and then northwestward to Europe. Leprosy was introduced to the Western Hemisphere by European settlers.

It has been believed until the 1970s that leprosy is an old disease recorded in most ancient civilizations, including Egypt, India, China and Mesopotamia.

The Hebrews fleeing Egypt during the Exodus almost certainly had been contaminated.

In 62 BC, after fighting in Egypt, Roman soldiers returned to Pompeii spreading leprosy to Italy.

In the mid 1970s archeological findings in China findings revealed a legal document considered to have been compiled between the 4th century and 217 BC describing an illness called li manifesting symptoms suggestive of leprosy.

Leprosy was for a long time associated with disease known in the Judeo-Christian world as sara’at, mentioned in the famous chapter of Leviticus, the very source of stigmatization of leprosy in the Christian West for more than a thousand years.

One cuneiform text from ancient Mesopotamia, which mentions the destruction of fingers and toes, sounds like a destruction of leprosy. They also mention of white patches or nodules on the body, possibly a distinction between tuberculoid and lepromatous leprosy, the two principle forms of the disease.

Leprosy peaked in the West during the middle Ages. The pilgrims and advancing troops of the Crusades, from AD 1095 to 1272, spread the disease thought Europe and the Middle East.

Before the advent do chemotherapy, leprosy was treated with the application of tropical agents or injections to skin lesions. The discovery of sulfonamides paved the way for use of antibiotic chemotherapy to treat leprosy.
Leprosy in ancient times
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