Leprosy in Far North Queensland

People with leprosy, a chronic granulomatous disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae, classically present with hypopigmented or erythematous, anaesthetic skin lesions or thickened peripheral nerves. Leprosy can be cured with antibiotics, but severe deformity and long term disability are common if therapy is delayed.

Leprosy is now very rarely acquired in Australia, but it is still diagnosed; Indigenous Australians in remote locations bear the greatest burden of disease.1,2 Historically, its incidence has been highest in the Northern Territory, but cases are also diagnosed in Far North Queensland (FNQ), a region that adjoins Papua New Guinea (PNG), where leprosy remains endemic.

Since 1985, Torres Strait Islander Australians and PNG nationals have been able to move freely across the border to pursue traditional activities in the Torres Strait Protected Zone. This arrangement acknowledges the importance of their shared cultural history, but also means that FNQ clinicians may encounter conditions that are rare in temperate Australia. The potential public health implications are also clear.

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