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Evaluation of altered patterns of tactile sensation in the diagnosis and monitoring of leprosy using the Semmes-Weinstein monofilaments


Background: Leprosy neuropathy is the most common peripheral neuropathy of infectious etiology worldwide; it is characterized as asymmetric and focal multiple mononeuropathy. Semmes-Weinstein monofilament (SWM) test is a simple method to assess sensory nerve function.

Methods and findings: In this prospective cohort study, a dermatologist carried out hands and feet tactile sensation test with SWM in 107 multibacillary leprosy patients at diagnosis and in 76 patients at the end of treatment from 2016 to 2019. At diagnosis, 81/107 (75.7%) patients had some degree of functional disability, and 46 (43%) of them had altered SWM-test in the hands and 94 (87.9%) of them in the feet. After one year of multibacillary multidrug therapy, the disability decreasing to 44/76 patients (57.9%) and decreasing of the percentual of patients with altered SWM-test to 18% for the hands, and to 28.7% for the feet. At the end of treatment, the number of SMW-test points presented improvement in the hands of 22 (28.9%) patients, and in the feet of 47 (61.8%). In the hands, by SWM-test, only the radial nerve point demonstrated a significant asymmetry, while in the feet, the difference between the sum of altered SWM-test points showed significant asymmetry between both sides, highlighting the tibial nerve for the establishment of asymmetric leprosy neuropathy. In Spearman’s correlation analysis, a positive correlation with statistical significance was observed between the number of hands and feet SWM altered points at diagnosis and the degree of disability at diagnosis (0.69) and at the end of the treatment (0.80).

Conclusion: The patterns of hands and feet tactile sensation at diagnosis and their consequent modifications with the anti-leprosy drugs define the bacterial etiology of neuropathy, an important tool for the clinical diagnosis and follow up of the disease, highlighting the tibial nerve findings, the most affected nerve among leprosy patients by SWM-test, with significant asymmetry and focality impairments.

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Journal Article
Frade MAC
Bernardes Filho F
Silva CML
Voltan G
Lima FR
Abi-Rached TLC
de Paula NA
Vousden G