Leprosy, the disfiguring bacterial infection that was believed to been eradicated, has taken Malawi health officials by surprise as they report nearly two dozen cases in Balaka district in the eastern part of the country, according to local media source, Nyasa Times.
At least 20 people are quarantined and 23 total cases have been reported.
Health officials say the resurfacing of leprosy may be due to the infections long incubation that can last as long as two decades.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae, an acid-fast, rod-shaped bacillus. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract and also the eyes.
Official figures show that almost 182,000 people, mainly in Asia and Africa, were affected at the beginning of 2012, with approximately 219,000 new cases reported during 2011.
M. leprae multiplies very slowly and the incubation period of the disease is about five years. Symptoms can take as long as 20 years to appear.
Leprosy is not highly infectious. It is transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contacts with untreated cases.
Untreated, leprosy can cause progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes.
Early diagnosis and treatment with multidrug therapy (MDT) remain the key elements in eliminating the disease as a public health concern.
Leprosy is curable and treatment provided in the early stages averts disability.