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Peripheral autonomic nerve dysfunction in asymptomatic leprosy contacts

E Wilder-Smith, A Wilder-Smith, M Egger
Journal of the Neurological Sciences 1997 September 1, 150 (1): 33-8
In endemic areas, subclinical autonomic nerve dysfunction may be a manifestation of infection with M. leprae and possibly allow detection before progression to clinical disease. Vasomotor reflex (VMR) testing was performed in 36 asymptomatic leprosy contacts (24 household contacts, 12 hospital contacts) and 47 age- and sex-matched controls in Pokhara, Nepal. Mean age was 30 years, two thirds were male. A Moor instruments DRT4 laser doppler monitor was used for velocimetry of microvascular blood flow. The flow reduction following an inspiratory gasp was recorded from finger and toe tips. Mean percent reduction was 57.8 (standard deviation 14.6) among household contacts, 61.9 (17.5) among hospital contacts and 66.8 (7.8) among controls (p=0.001 by analysis of variance). The prevalence of abnormal test results was 54% among household contacts, 42% among hospital contacts and 15% among controls (p=0.0005 by chi-square test for trend). Subclinical autonomic neuropathy is common among healthy contacts of leprosy patients. Prospective studies are now needed to clarify to what extent abnormal VMR tests predict the risk of progression to clinical disease.

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