Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 17 >> Lemurs to Lied Von Der Glocke >> Leprosy_P1

Leprosy

disease, lepers, leper, europe, hands, feet, variety and lazarus

Page: 1 2

LEPROSY, a term very vaguely Used by medical and other writers to denote a disease, Le/ra tuberculosa, which appears to have pre vailed from the earliest time down to the present. The bacillus leprce was discovered by Hansen in 1868. The most prominent symp toms of the disease are as follows: a constant but intermittent fever, dusky red or, livid tubercles of various sizes on the face, ears and extremities; thickened state of the skin with diminution of its sensibility; falling off of the hair, except that of the scalp; hoarse, nasal or lost voice; ozxna; ulcerations of the surface, a periodical exaggeration of perspiration, con nected with nervous disturbances, and a feeling of anxiety with sense of impending disaster and extreme fetor. The tubercles vary in size from that of a pea to an olive. Hands, feet and face are generally first affected.

In modern times three main forms of leprosy are recognized. In the first the whole body becomes white and scaly, without much interference with the general health. This is the type of the Biblical leprosy, and it is rare nowadays. The second variety causes a loss of feeling in the hands and feet in its earlier stages, and later on in the arms and legs. It is known as anwsthetic leprosy. It is a form of neuritis (q.v.). The sufferer from this form of the disease is much troubled with dysentery, and when the disease is advanced his hands and feet are liable to slough off. The third variety of leprosy is known as the tubercular form. It is distinguished by horrible swellings of loose skin, which becomes dis colored. This is the commonest modern variety of the disease and the one most repulsive.

Leprosy was recognized 1500 s.c. in India and in the Orient and in Palestine and the countries immediately east of it leprosy existed until the dispersion of the Jews in the 1st cen tury of the Christian Era. As the power of the Roman Empire declined in the west of Europe a strong tide of emigration from the Levant set in. The plague of leprosy spread with the teaching of Christianity until no coun try in Europe was free from it. It is also said that the returning Crusaders spread the disease all over Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries. Between the 6th and the 15th centuries leprosy was by far the most dangerous and infectious disease of which any account has come down to us.

To be a leper was to be an outcast beyond hope of any solace but the grave. All the

larger towns in Europe had a place specially set apart for its lepers. This reservation was shunned as if it were the mouth of a burning hell. A boundary line was made, beyond which no leper could venture, except at the risk of in stant death. If a healthy stranger unwittingly wandered too near the leper's camp he was re morselessly thrust into it and made to share the lot of those previously afflicted. Food was furnished to these leper camps by the town au thorities. The provisions intended for the use of the lepers were left on some exposed hill, selected for that purpose, during the daytime, and removed by the inmates of the camp at night. No office, no matter how exalted, served to keep a sufferer from leprosy from universal ostracism.

In the sparsely settled country districts, solitary lepers abounded. Each one wandered about by himself in the unfrequented woods and uninhabited waste places. The rigorous compulsion of the villagers compelled him to wrap himself in a sheet so that only his eyes were exposed. He must carry a bell in his hand and ring it in order to warn wayfarers of his approach. Whenever the dismal tinkling of the leper's bell was heard, the inhabitants fled in terror of their lives. The unfortunate victim supported life as best he might by roots and berries, and by the occasional offerings of char itable persons left where he could find them.

At an early period in the history of the Christian Church efforts were made to alleviate the sufferings of lepers. An order of Saint Lazarus was formed as early as 72 A.D., taking its name from Lazarus, the beggar who ate the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Later on, in the 12th century, a military order of Lazarus was founded by the Knights Hos pitallers. When these knights were driven out of Palestine they made France and afterward Sicily their headquarters. Numerous lazarettos were established by them in the principal cities of Europe. For many years the grand master of this order was required to be a leper. In civil law the leper was treated as one dead. His property passed to his heirs, his wife was free to marry again, and on his departure for the lazaretto prayers for the dead were repeated over him, and a shovelful of earth was thrown after him to make the ceremony complete.

Page: 1 2