Don't Fear the Leper

Leprosy, or Hansen's Disease, is a term that strikes fear into the heart of everyone, almost exclusively in those who know little about the disease. Since biblical times, lepers were casted outside of society and interaction with them was minimized. Leper colonies were created, even in the US. 

One of the most infamous of these colonies was on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. This colony, which was the result of a forced segregation policy, lasted for over 100 years until 1969. This colony has been the subject of at least two books and a film focused on the experiences of Father Damien, a  Catholic priest who resided there and ultimately became infected, was also made. I saw the film last night and found it interesting and instructive to those interested in the history of this disease.

However, leprosy is not easily spread between humans and since the 1940s--prior to the ending of forced segregation--effective antibiotic treatment has been available. In my experience, I have only known of one case in the Pittsburgh area in an immigrant, who did not spread it further. 

Like HIV thousands of years later, leprosy illustrates that fear of infectious disease has been a recurrent theme and will likely continue so long as novel infectious diseases continue to appear--a safe bet.