Familial transmission of leprosy in post-war Britain-discrimination and dissent

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Gill, A. L. ; Gill, Geoff ; Beeching, Nicholas (2008)

A Polish immigrant, who was resident in the United Kingdom (UK), presented with lepromatous leprosy and was detained in two hospitals against his wishes in the late 1940s. The public reaction to his diagnosis was remarkable, with street riots and questions in the Houses of Parliament about this leper. His wife was persecuted and had to change her name. The index patient died of tuberculosis during enforced isolation in hospital, and several years later his daughter (who had never left the UK) presented with a left median nerve palsy and probable lepromatous dactylitis of the left third finger, eventually requiring amputation and prolonged dapsone treatment. Her disease resolved slowly but completely.\ud We believe these two familial cases represent the first documented episode of autochthonous leprosy transmission in the UK since the early 1920s. They also demonstrate the ability of this disease to engender fear, dissent and discrimination amongst the public. Parallels are drawn with reactions to the cholera epidemics in nineteenth century Britain, and to HIV/AIDS, SARS and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in more recent times.
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