New Yaws Treatment Has WHO Discussing Future Eradication Efforts

Jan 18, 2012 | Jane Huston | Research & Policy

Recent findings around the treatment of yaws have the World Health Organization (WHO) discussing future eradication efforts.

Researchers from Papua New Guinea and Spain have found a single dose of the antibiotic azithromycin is no less effective than the current WHO guideline of an injection of benzathine benzylpenicillin. To determine the comparative effectiveness of the treatment, researchers recruited children from Papua New Guinea who were diagnosed with yaws. The children were randomly assigned to receive either the standard penicillin shot or an oral dose of azithromycin and then checked after two weeks, three months, and six months. Cure rates were similar between the two groups. In addition, azithromycin was equally well-tolerated, meaning it had few side effects and all were mild.

Because azithromycin can be administered orally, it requires considerably fewer resources, such as trained medical staff and injection equipment. This makes it much easier to administer, especially in a resource-constrained environment. Based on these findings, WHO experts plan to discuss how the disease may be wiped out one day.

Yaws, considered a neglected tropical disease, was previously the target on an eradication campaign in the 1950s and 1960s. By 1964, the global number of cases was down 95 percent. However, in an illustration of the many challenges of disease eradication, control efforts were eased, elimination was forgotten, and the disease returned during the 1970s. While few countries continue to report on the disease, the WHO estimated global prevalence in the 1990s to be around 2.5 million. Yaws is still endemic in parts of Africa, Asia and South America.

Yaws is caused by infection by the Treponema pertenue bacteria, a subspecies of the bacteria that causes syphilis. Initial infection leads to skin lesions that can then transmit the bacteria to other people through direct contact. While the disease is rarely fatal, it may lead to disfigurement and disability.

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