October – International charity, Lepra states that leprosy is not just a disease of the Middle Ages, but a disease of our time, in response to headlines that red squirrels brought the disease to East Anglia after finding evidence of the disease in the remains of a pre-Norman skull found in Hoxne, Suffolk.

In the UK, there are approximately four cases of leprosy diagnosed each year, however, these cases originate from countries overseas where leprosy is rife. In India, reported cases are at their highest for 10 years and globally, three million people are believed to live undiagnosed with this disease.

Lepra found, diagnosed and treated 14,300 people with leprosy last year. They believe that raising awareness about the symptoms and the free cure available will help to beat the disease.

Geoff Prescott, Chief Executive at Lepra says that lack of awareness is one of the biggest challenges to eliminating leprosy:

“Whilst leprosy has been eradicated in the UK for over 200 years, the disease is still prevalent in the developing world and if left untreated, it causes life-changing disability.

“Every day we are finding people living with the disease. They have often received a delayed diagnosis and developed disabilities in their hands and feet, because even doctors are not aware of the disease.

“In a recent trip to Hyderabad in India, I met a boy, named Amar. A late leprosy diagnosis caused by a lack of awareness has left him with disabilities in his hands, which prevent him from going to school and taking part in snooker and cricket – two hobbies he used to enjoy.

“Common misconceptions such as the idea this disease no longer exists continue to hinder our fight to beat leprosy. It is important people know this disease still exists and that there are millions affected who desperately need support.”

He adds that the public shouldn’t be alarmed about squirrels carrying the disease today:

“Despite the existence of leprosy in red squirrels, it is extremely unlikely that anyone should contract it in the UK – even if you were in long-term close contact with someone affected by the disease.”

To find out more about Lepra’s work visit lepra.org.uk