צרעת – from the Latin lepra, meaning “scales”. A chronic bacterial infection spread through contact with mucus or bodily fluids, causing disfiguring skin lesions. The highly visible effect of untreated leprosy historically caused sufferers to be reviled and shunned. Leper colonies are common among ancient cultures, and even early 20th century societies, until the advent of drug treatment for Mycobacterium leprae. Given the limited medical knowledge in biblical times, Leprosy was a term applied to a variety of outwardly symptomatic diseases, covering a range of skin disfigurements or infections spread through contact. One suffering from Leprosy in biblical times was called metzora.

Today, around 200,000 cases are reported worldwide, concentrated in tropical or sub-tropical regions of the developing world.

Read more in the Jewish Encyclopedia or at Wikipedia.

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