Risk factors for the development of clinical leprosy among contacts, and their relevance for targeted interventions

Lepr Rev. 2004 Dec;75(4):310-26.


Existing knowledge on risk factors for the development of clinical leprosy among contacts of known leprosy patients is reviewed with the aim to identify factors associated with leprosy among contacts that have potential for developing effective targeted interventions in leprosy control. Different definitions of 'contact' have been used and most studies on this subject were among so-called household members. Yet several studies indicate that contacts found in other places than the household are also at risk of developing leprosy. The type of leprosy and the bacterial index are the main patient-related factors involved in transmission, but also contacts of PB patients have a higher risk of contracting leprosy as compared to the general population. The most important contact-related factors are the closeness and intensity of the contact and inherited susceptibility, while the role of age and sex of the contacts is not clear. The role of socio-economic factors is also vague. The significance of immunological and molecular markers in relation to risk of transmitting or developing leprosy is not yet fully understood, but there is an indication that contacts who are sero-positive for anti-PGL-I antibodies are at increased risk of developing clinical leprosy. The presence of a BCG scar is likely to be related to a lower risk. Analogies with tuberculosis suggest that the 'stone-in-the-pond' approach to control may be applicable to leprosy too. Sputum smear negative tuberculosis patients are known to spread the bacteria to others. This analogy strengthens the suggestion that the contacts of paucibacillary leprosy cases should also be included in contact tracing and examination. It is concluded that targeted interventions should be aimed at close contacts of both MB and PB patients inside and outside the household, particularly when genetically related.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communicable Disease Control / organization & administration*
  • Contact Tracing / methods*
  • Developing Countries
  • Endemic Diseases / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leprosy / diagnosis*
  • Leprosy / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Distribution
  • Survival Rate
  • World Health Organization