Arresting Leprosy: Therapeutic Outcomes Besides Cure

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This essay focuses on the use of the concept of “arrest” in Hansen’s disease (leprosy) in the United States in the early to middle part of the 20th century, as well as the transformations the concept underwent with the arrival of sulfone drugs and the implications of these changes for patients and public health officers. An “arrest” was a therapeutic outcome characterized by a long course of treatment, noncontagiousness, a very small chance of reactivation, and a need for postdischarge maintenance that depended on sociomedical infrastructures beyond the clinic as well as self-imposed lifestyle limitations. The concept of disease arrest shows that experts and laypeople alike have valued therapeutic outcomes other than “cure” that signal certain optimal therapeutic milestones, despite the practical difficulties they imply and despite the fact that they do not promise a return to a pre-illness stage.

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