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From Norman leprosie, from Middle French leprosie (leprosy & similar skin diseases), probably from leprous (leprous) + -ie (-y) but possibly from Medieval Latin leprōsia (leprōsus + -ia) although this only historically attested in reference to leprosariums.

The shift of sense from psoriasis to Hansen's disease occurred in large part from the use of λέπρα (lépra) to translate Hebrew צרעת(tzaraath) in the Septuagint and its subsequent use in the New Testament and Late Latin.


  • IPA(key): /ˈlɛpɹəsi/
    • (file)
  • enPR: lěp'rə-sē


leprosy (usually uncountable, plural leprosies)

  1. (medicine) An infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae, gradually producing nerve damage and patches of skin necrosis and historically handled by permanently quarantining its sufferers.
    • 1535, Myles Coverdale, Bible, Lev. 8:3:
      Then is it surely a leprosy
    • 1925, Frank Harris, My Life and Loves, volume III, page 183:
      The great London doctors knew nothing about leprosy and cared less.
    • 1954, Elspeth J. Huxley, Four Guineas, page 267:
      The new drug—diaminodiphenylsulphone... offers the first certain cure... and leprosy can be cured in six months
    Leprosy seems to have spread from India to the Middle East by early antiquity and from there to Europe during the time of the Roman Empire.
  2. (medicine, now usually proscribed) Similar contagious skin diseases causing light patches of scaly skin, particularly psoriasis, syphilis, vitiligo, scabies, and (biblical) the various diseases considered "tzaraath" in the Old Testament.
  3. (figurative) Anything considered similarly permanent, harmful, and communicable, particularly when such a thing should be handled by avoidance or isolation of its victims.
    Sin is a spiritual leprosy.
  4. (veterenary medicine) A contagious disease causing similar effects in animals, particularly
    1. Ellipsis of murine leprosy. and feline leprosy, diseases caused in rodents and cats by Mycobacterium lepraemurium.
    2. (obsolete) Synonym of mange and glanders in horses.
  5. (obsolete, rare) Synonym of leprosarium: a place for the housing of lepers in isolation from the rest of society.

Usage notes[edit]

Many modern medical associations now prefer the more clinical Hansen's disease to avoid both confusion with diseases which may appear superficially similar to proper leprosy and to avoid the stigma and harsh treatment historically associated with the disease.



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