Eeek! Called unclean in the bible. Let's look at the history of leprosy.
Medieval Crusaders played a key role in moving the pathogen across the globe. In medieval times, a sufferer of leprosy was likely to be an outcast, secluded from society in quarantined colonies. Then as now, there was a social stigma with having the disease, but it can be cured if caught early. If left untreated, it can leave sufferers deformed and crippled.
Leprosy sufferers were often quarantined in living areas called leprosaria. In public, they had to wear bells to warn others of their presence. In the bible it was referred to as an "unclean" disease and by 1225, there were about 19,000 leprosaria colonies in Europe.
Prof Monica Green specializes in medical history at the Arizona State University, US. "The important thing to remember is that leprosaria were religious institutions, showing both a major material investment and adherence to a religious rule of life. Leprosy was the only disease in medieval Europe that elicited a specific institutional response. In its full-blown form, it was grossly disfiguring and maiming. Stigma might be reserved for persons with the most serious cases. There was a general decline towards the later middle ages, in part because the segregation provided by leprosaria worked in removing the most seriously affected individuals from open society."
Researchers hope to find the ancient origins of the disease. Leprosy is not highly infectious. It is transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contacts with untreated cases.
Leprosy infections in Europe today are minimal as an estimated 95% of the population has developed immunity, but globally leprosy remains a significant problem with 225,000 new cases recorded annually. India has the highest number of infections, followed by Brazil.
In the forth book in my futuristic Higher Ground novels co-written with Edith Parzefall, the travelling companions reach London where they come into contact with lepers living in an underground tube station. Here's an excerpt:
~~~Hasid stepped in front of him. “They are leeps. It's a horrible disease. They are everywhere, Boris. Let's get out of here. This is their place.”
“Listen to the man,” Aron said.
Boris swallowed, then nodded. Far too many grimy faces for him to count. He turned his back on the miserable lot and walked towards his friends. “Can't we do anything for them?” he whispered so only Eliza could hear him.
Tilting her head, she said, “I don't think anyone's tried yet. Dey look horrible, dey stink and die. When one's dead, dey put dem on da mound and take whatever da living can still use. Makes sense, don't it?”
She studied him with searching eyes.
“Don't people have respect in this place?” Boris grumbled.
He glanced over his shoulder at the grey figures now hobbling after them, hands stretched out. He remembered the scrap of food in his bag. “I'll show you.” He spun around and strode towards the grey people. Their putrid smell hit him again.
“Boris!” Eliza yelled. “Don't! Ya might catch it.”
Sorrow replaced the earlier horror in his heart as he neared the first grey figures. He blocked his nose against the smell. They'd stopped, hands reaching towards him.
“Bless you,” a woman whispered, her lips swollen and bruised. A boil on her cheek sickened Boris, but he couldn't look away.
“Can you give us something?” a man without teeth said.
Boris pulled the hard piece of stale bread from his bag. “You might have to soak this in water.”
“Bread,” the woman whispered.
The toothless man took the half loaf with trembling fingers.
The ugly boils on his bare arms reminded Boris of the dying man, eaten alive by maggots. He closed his eyes for a moment. ~~~
The title, Long Doom Calling is a twisted version of the song, London Calling. The book is due to be released around September. You can see the first three books on the right sidebar.