Here Is Everything You (Never) Wanted To Know About Leprosy

For centuries, people with leprosy were cast out of society, called sinners, and treated like, well, lepers. There's a reason that today, the word is synonymous with stigma. But the truth about leprosy is much more complicated. Yes, the disease causes disfiguration, including blindness, facial deformity, and the reabsorption of limbs back into the body. But for centuries, lepers have been accused of acts like contaminating wells or causing the Black Death.

Just like black plague victims were sent to perish on an isolated island, people with leprosy were sometimes forcibly removed from their families and quarantined to remote colonies. But there's a wide gap between leprosy facts and myths. For example, Europeans believed for centuries leprosy was incredibly contagious. But, in fact, the disease is not very contagious at all—it takes long-term, close contact to spread between people.

Today there's a cure for leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease. Scientists identified the bacteria that causes the disease in the 1870s and discovered in the 1940s leprosy can be cured with antibiotics. But even though leprosy no longer sentences people to a horrible, painful end, the stigma of the disease remains.