Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, is one of the most stigmatized diseases in the world, leaving patients feeling isolated and discriminated against even years after scientists found a cure.

Caused by Mycobacterium leprae, leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that affects the skin, nerves, eyes and nasal lining. Symptoms on the skin include lumps, swelling, ulcers, discolored patches and loss of eyebrows and eyelashes. The patients may also experience nose bleeds and stuffy noses. Nerve damage can cause numbness and weakness and may result in crippling of hands and feet, paralysis and blindness if left untreated.

Although rare, leprosy exists to this day. Approximately 208,000 people are affected by the disease worldwide, and around 100 individuals in the U.S. receive a diagnosis each year.

This World Leprosy Day, observed on the last Sunday of January every year, let us break the stigma by knowing the facts and debunking the common misconceptions about the disease.

Myth #1: Leprosy Is highly contagious

Fact: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 95% of adults can fight off the bacteria that causes leprosy.

Leprosy cannot spread through casual contact like shaking hands, sitting next to or talking to a patient but only through long-term close contact with an infectious person.

Myth #2: Leprosy Is incurable

Fact: Leprosy can be cured through a treatment that involves a combination of antibiotics. The multidrug therapy takes one to two years.

Although the treatment can cure the disease and prevent its progression, it cannot reverse nerve damage or disfigurement once formed. Hence, it is important to diagnose the disease early and seek treatment immediately.

Myth #3: Only Poor People Get Leprosy

Fact: Leprosy affects people with poor immunity. Those living in underprivileged communities are more vulnerable to leprosy, as lack of sanitation, access to clean water, nutrition and lower standards of living could affect the immune systems.

Myth #4: Leprosy Patients Need to Stay Isolated

Fact: Patients who are being treated with antibiotics can continue their normal lives and live among their family and friends.

The infection is not contagious a few days into the treatment with antibiotics. But to ensure that the infection does not return, the entire prescribed treatment should be completed.

Myth #5: Leprosy Makes A Person's Fingers and Toes Fall Off

Fact: The nerves of the digits may become numb but they do not just fall off.

In the advanced stage of the untreated disease, if the patients suffer burns or cuts to the digits and leave them untreated, it can lead to infection and permanent damage. Eventually, the body may reabsorb the digit.