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Nasty Infectious Diseases You Want To Avoid - Yaws

Updated on December 31, 2008


One of the world's most prevalent infections, this is a childhood skin disease found throughout the poorer subtropical and tropical areas of the world. Also known as frambesia, pian, or bouba, yaws is not a sexually transmitted disease. It occurs between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, where more than 50 million people have been treated with penicillin in an effort to eradicate the disease. As a result, the incidence of disease has been reduced in many areas, although it still occurs in many communities.


The disease is not believed to have been known in the ancient world. It was first noted in the West Indies after the discovery of America; it is believed that is was brought from Africa to America by the slave trade. It is very rare in India, and it is almost unknown in Europe, Japan, and New Zealand.


Cause - Yaws is caused by the spirochete Treponema pertenue, a close cousin of T. pallidum, the spirochete that causes syphilis. The relationship between the two diseases is not clear. However, unlike syphilis, yaws appears to be acquired by direct contact with an infected person, not by sexual intercourse.


Symptoms - While not a fatal . disease, yaws is very disfiguring and often disabling. About a month after infection, symptoms of malaise, low fever, and headache appear. In the primary stage, a highly contagious, itchy red raspberry-like growth appears on the site of the infection. In places where people regularly go barelegged and barefoot, these growths usually appear on the soles of the feet and the lower legs. Scratching spreads the infection, leading to development of more growths on other parts of the skin. During the next few weeks, the growths develop into blisters, which begin to ooze and then form a crust. Sores then develop. The nearby lymph glands may become swollen, and the joints and bones may ache. There may be an irregular fever. The initial sores may disappear with no other problems except for scarring. More typically, they last for several months. The secondary stage is the most infectious, usually developing three months after onset of the disease. At this point, areas of rash and sores appear all over the body; as some sores disappear (leaving discolored patches), others enlarge and develop into nodules. These lesions are usually painless (except on the soles of the feet), but they may be very itchy. This stage lasts for three to six months in children, and from six months to a year in adults. The tertiary stage-characterized by the destruction of large areas of the bones, nose, and joints by the ulcers-may last for years, but it does not always occur.


Treatment - A single dose of penicillin will cure this disease. Without treatment, growths heal slowly over about six months, but recurrence is common. About 10 percent of untreated patients experience the tertiary stage.


Prevention - There is no way to prevent yaws, but in places where the disease is widespread, proper care of injuries or wounds will lessen the chance of contracting the disease.


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