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Progression of eye disease in “cured” leprosy patients: implications for understanding the pathophysiology of ocular disease and for addressing eyecare needs
  1. Susan Lewallena,
  2. Narong C Tungpakornb,
  3. Sung-Hwa Kimc,
  4. Paul Courtrighta
  1. aBritish Columbia Centre for Epidemiologic and International Ophthalmology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, bDepartment of Ophthalmology, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand, cCatholic Skin Clinic and Hospital, Taegu, South Korea
  1. Dr Susan Lewallen, BC Centre for Epidemiologic and International Ophthalmology, University of British Columbia, St Paul's Hospital, 1081 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6, Canadapcourtright{at}


BACKGROUND Ocular damage in leprosy is due either to nerve damage or infiltration by mycobacteria. There is currently little information about the magnitude and nature of incident ocular pathology in cured leprosy patients. This information would increase our understanding of the pathophysiology of ocular involvement in leprosy and help in developing programmes to address the eyecare needs of leprosy patients who have been released from treatment. The cumulative incidence of leprosy related ocular pathology and cataract was measured during an 11 year follow up period in cured leprosy patients released from treatment in Korea.

METHODS In 1988 standardised eye examinations were performed on 501 patients in eight resettlement villages in central South Korea. In May 1999 standardised eye examinations were repeated in this population.

RESULTS Among the patients in whom there was no sight threatening leprosy related ocular disease (lagophthalmos, posterior synechia, or keratitis) in 1988, 14.7% developed one or more of these conditions. Overall, among those with no vision reducing cataract in 1988, 26.4% had developed a vision reducing lens opacity in at least one eye. Among patients examined in both 1988 and 1999, 14.3% developed visual impairment and 5.7% developed blindness.

CONCLUSION This study demonstrates that leprosy related ocular pathology progresses in some patients even after they are cured mycobiologically. The progressive leprosy related lesions are the result of chronic nerve damage; ocular lesions due to infiltration by Mycobacterium lepraedid not develop. Based on the factors found to be associated with development of the most visually significant findings (posterior synechia, keratitis, and cataract) certain patients should be targeted at discharge for active follow up eye care. We suggest that patients with lagophthalmos (even in gentle closure), trichiasis, small pupils, and posterior synechiae should be screened regularly for the development of lagophthalmos in forced closure, keratitis, and cataract.

  • leprosy
  • eye complications
  • lagophthalmos
  • cataract
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