Section : History & Terminology

Leprosy: why it is called Hansen’s disease

  • Leprosy was an important health problem in Norway and in the mid 19th century a center for the study and care of leprosy patients was built in the outskirts of Bergen (called the Pleiestiftelsen). It was built by Dr Daniel Cornelius Danielsen (1815-1894), the founder of leprosy research – he described crusted scabies – also called Norwegian Scabies.
  • Dr Gerhard Armauer Hansen (1841-1912) was his son in law and identified the “small rods” in the “Lepra cells” taken from leprosy lesions. These were the bacillus which proved leprosy was contagious and not hereditary, as Danielsen had thought.
  • Isolation measures were then taken and the number of leprosy dropped from 2800 cases in 1875 to 300 in 1912.
  • Justly enough the term Hansen’s disease is appropriate because it takes the term “leprosy” out, and at the same time takes out the stigma away to a disease which was then considered to be genetic.

Source of information: Crissey JT el al. Dermatology and Dermatologists (2002). Parthenon Publishing