The diagnosis of leprosy is essentially clinical, although a laboratory test (the slit skin smear) is important in some cases.
Normally, the diagnosis of leprosy rests on finding any one of three cardinal signs:
- one or more hypo-pigmented, anaesthetic skin patches, typical of leprosy;
- one or more thickened peripheral nerves; or
- a positive skin smear.
As with many diseases, the most accurate diagnostic test is a biopsy, with subsequent staining and histopathological examination of the tissues.
One major topic for research at present is the development of new diagnostic tests which may allow leprosy to be diagnosed with confidence at a much earlier stage. This would mean that treatment could begin earlier, resulting in reduced disability and reduced transmission of the disease to contacts.
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