This chapter introduces leprosy, an infection that is still misunderstood and considered a neglected tropical disease but declining in frequency, according to the World Health Organization. The bacteria that cause leprosy, Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis, are outlined, as well as how a relative strength of a person’s immune system determines how leprosy affects the body. Although leprosy is curable, associated stigma and disability remain common challenges for people with the disease in parts of the world. The goals and structure of the book are outlined, ten myths that still pervade society at large are listed, and the use of the word “leper” discussed. Based on World Health Organization data, the chapter also explores the frequency of leprosy today, where the infection remains a challenge, and the history of detecting and reporting evidence for leprosy in living populations. Finally, the reasons why bioarchaeologists have an interest in this infection are explored.
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