Fact CheckHealth

True! Leprosy spreads through respiratory droplets and face masks help curb its spread

Claim: A viral meme claims that the bacteria that causes Leprosy is spread through airborne respiratory droplets and face masks are helpful to protect against such bacteria.

The World Health Organisation(WHO) noted leprosy spreads through respiratory droplets when infected persons cough or sneeze.

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A meme shared by Health Volunteers Nigeria Initiative claims the bacteria that causes leprosy is spread through airborne respiratory droplets by coughing or sneezing.

The caption in the tweet notes that face masks can be helpful in preventing it.

Day 4 of 10. Did you know?

In areas of high risk, Facemasks can be helpful in preventing infection as the bacterium causing leprosy is spread through respiratory droplets.”

Excerpt of the Twitter post by Health Volunteers Nigeria Initiative.

Screenshot of Twitter post by Health Volunteers Nigeria Initiative.

Screenshots of this post have also been shared on WhatsApp.

Screenshot of the meme shared on WhatsApp.


Dubawa conducted a keyword search on Leprosy and its means of transmission. Dubawa also studied documents on the disease.

What is leprosy

Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae and affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and the eyes. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Mycobacterium leprae multiplies slowly with an incubation period of averagely 5 years. Leprosy is also known as Hansen’s disease.

Symptoms of Leprosy

Symptoms of Leprosy include muscle weakness, numbness in the hands, arms, feet, and legs, and skin lesions.

Symptoms may occur within 1 year but can also take as long as 20 years or even more to occur.

Types of leprosy

There are three systems of classifying leprosy. The first is determined by how a person’s immune system responds to the disease. Here we have tuberculoid, lepromatous, and borderline.

The second system of classification is by the WHO which classified it based on the type and number of affected skin areas. Here we have paucibacillary; where there are five or fewer lesions and no bacteria detected in the skin samples and multibacillary.

The third system uses the Ridley-Jopling system. It has five classifications based on the severity of symptoms. They are Tuberculoid leprosy, Borderline tuberculoid leprosy, Mid-borderline leprosy, Borderline lepromatous leprosy, and Lepromatous leprosy.

There’s also another form of leprosy called indeterminate leprosy but is not included in the Ridley-Jopling classification system. It’s considered the very early form of leprosy where a person will have only one skin lesion which may resolve or progress further to one of the five forms of leprosy within the Ridley-Jopling system.

How does it spread 

Leprosy spreads through contact with the mucosal secretions of a person who has the infection. This can happen when a person with leprosy sneezes or coughs.

The WHO also noted it is likely transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contact with untreated cases.

What role does face mask play?

According to the WHO clinical and diagnosis management of leprosy patients, constant washing of hands and the use of face masks was recommended.

Screenshot of WHO document on leprosy.


The claim that leprosy spreads through respiratory droplets is true as the WHO  document on leprosy listed this as the likely means of transmission.

While this is true, the disease isn’t highly contagious. However, close and repeated contact with an untreated person for a longer period of time can lead to contracting the disease. The second claim that face masks are helpful in preventing leprosy is true as it is recommended for caregivers in charge of patients and the patients themselves.

It is also worthy of note that leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT) and through the use of antibiotics like dapsone (Aczone), rifampin (Rifadin), clofazimine (Lamprene), minocycline (Minocin), and ofloxacin (Ocuflux).

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