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Radio Shows | The Naming of Hansen's Disease | mp3wmawav

The Naming of Hansen's Disease The work that we do - and that of most other scientists is not well publicized or recognized by the general public.

Unless of course it's someone who's made a remarkable discovery. In that case, there is the possibility of having their discovery named after them.

That may sound great but the process often gets mired in disputes and sometimes, bad feelings. One in particular is Hansen's disease which is commonly known as leprosy.

Contrary to popular belief Leprosy is not very contagious and has a long incubation time. It's an infectious disease that leads to damage in the nerves of the arms and legs.

The result is loss of sensation and muscle weakness which means patients will repeatedly injure their extremities and not notice. The areas get infected by other bacteria causing further damage and the disfigurement highly associated with this disease.

In the late nineteenth century, the Norwegian physician, Gerhard Armauer Hansen collected a large number of samples from people with leprosy and when examined under a microscope he discovered rod like bodies.

But he did not know they were bacteria and he could not prove they caused Leprosy. Nonetheless In 1873, he published his finding but it wasn't well accepted.

Six years later a German colleague, Albert Neisser visited Hansen who shared the leprosy samples with him. Neisser was able to identify the rods as bacteria and so he quickly published this finding and then wrote another paper claiming to be the true discoverer of the bacteria.

Hansen countered angrily in an article that it was his research that advanced the link between this bacterium and Leprosy. Needless to say the two scientists had a serious falling out. This story does have a happy ending. At a conference on Leprosy, the decision was made to name the disease after Hansen.

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For more information…

For the story about Armauer Hansen's (1841-1912) discovery of the causative agent of Leprosy please read.

For a very interesting article entitled "Five Scientific Discoveries That Got The Wrong Name" by Michael Marshall in the New Scientist that presents more interesting facts about the naming of scientific discoveries.
For more information…

The State of Louisiana Office of Public Health offers a publication that is an excellent source of basic information about Hansen's Disease.
For more information…

For a detailed description of Leprosy or Hansen's Disease including its history, different forms, consequences and treatments go here.


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