Hansen's disease

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noun Pathology.
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Origin of Hansen's disease

1935–40; named after G. H. Hansen (1841–1912), Norwegian physician and discoverer of leprosy-causing Mycobacterium leprae

Words nearby Hansen's disease

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is Hansen’s disease?

Hansen’s disease is another name for leprosy, an infectious disease that causes bumps and wounds on and under the skin that gradually spread and can cause muscle weakness, nerve damage, and paralysis.

If not treated effectively, it can result in the loss of body parts and eventually death. It can be cured with a treatment of antibiotics and other drugs.

Hansen’s disease is the name preferred by many medical professionals. It’s named for Gerhard Hansen, the Norwegian doctor and bacteriologist who determined in the 1870s that leprosy is caused by the bacterium now known as Mycobacterium leprae.

Cases of the disease have been documented since ancient times. Due to its severe effects and contagiousness, many people who have had the disease throughout history have been stigmatized and treated as outcasts.

Historically, the word leper has been used to refer to a person with leprosy. Due to the stigma, it came to be used in a more figurative way to mean an outcast or someone who is excluded, especially for behavior or opinions considered unacceptable, as in Ever since I expressed my opinion, I’ve been treated like a leper around here. However, both the figurative and literal senses of the word can be considered insensitive due to the fact that they can dehumanize those who have the disease. It is typically recommended to use a phrase like “a person with Hansen’s disease” when referring to someone with the disease.

Where does the name Hansen’s disease come from?

The term Hansen’s disease is relatively recent, being first recorded in the 1930s. Gerhard Hansen, for whom it’s named, lived from 1841 to 1912. The word leprosy is much older. The first records of it come from around the 1500s, but descriptions of a disease thought to be leprosy date back even further—it’s even mentioned in the Bible. It ultimately comes from the Greek word leprós, “scaly,” which is related to lépein, “to peel.”

The bacterium that Hansen identified as causing the disease, Mycobacterium leprae, can be killed with antibiotics. However, the skin and nerve damage that the disease can cause can be permanent, so early diagnosis is key. Advances in the treatment of what would come to be called Hansen’s disease only came about in the early 1900s, due to contributions by African American chemist Alice Ball and others. In 2000, the World Health Organization declared that the disease is no longer a public health problem on a global scale, meaning that cases of it have dropped to a low level. However, hundreds of thousands of people are still diagnosed with it each year.

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What are some synonyms for Hansen’s disease?

What are some words that share a root or word element with Hansen’s disease


What are some words that often get used in discussing Hansen’s disease?

How is Hansen’s disease used in real life?

Hansen’s disease is typically used in a medical context. Though the word leprosy is much more well known, it has a history of stigmatization, so the name Hansen’s disease is often preferred.



British Dictionary definitions for Hansen's disease

Hansen's disease
/ (ˈhænsənz) /

pathol another name for leprosy

Word Origin for Hansen's disease

C20: named after G. H. Hansen (1841–1912), Norwegian physician
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012