Navigate Up

Women's Center - A-Z Index

#
Y

Print This Page

Yaws

Yaws is a long-term (chronic) infection that mainly affects the skin, bones, and joints.

Alternative Names

Frambesia tropica

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Yaws is an infection caused by the spiral-shaped bacteria, Treponema pallidum, subspecies pertenue. It is closely related to the bacterium that causes syphilis, but this disease is not sexually transmitted. Yaws mainly affects children in rural, warm, tropical areas, such as the Caribbean Islands, Latin America, West Africa, India, and Southeast Asia.

Yaws is transmitted by direct contact with the skin sores of infected people.

Symptoms

About 2 - 4 weeks after infection, the person develops a sore called a "mother yaw" where bacteria entered the skin. The sore is a growth that may be tan or reddish and looks like a raspberry. It is usually painless but does cause itching.

These sores may last for months. More sores may appear shortly before or after the mother yaw heals as the person scratches or spreads the bacteria from the mother yaw to uninfected skin. Eventually the skin sores heal.

Other symptoms include:

  • Bone pain
  • Scarring of the skin
  • Swelling of the bones and fingers

In theĀ advanced stage, sores on the skin and bones can lead to severe disfigurement and disability. This occurs in up to 1 in 5 people who do not get antibiotic treatment.

Signs and tests

A sample from a skin sore is examined under a special type of microscope (darkfield examination).

There is no blood test for yaws. However, the blood test for syphilis is usually positive in people with yaws because the bacteria that cause these two conditions are closely related.

Treatment

Treatment involves a single dose of one type of penicillin, or 3 weekly doses for later stage disease. It is rare for the disease to return.

Anyone who lives in the same house with someone who is infected should be examined for yaws and treated if they are infected.

Expectations (prognosis)

If treated in its early stages, yaws can be cured. Skin lesions may take several months to heal.

By its late stage, yaws may have already caused damage to the skin and bones. It may not be fully reversible, even with treatment.

Complications

Yaws may damage the skin and bones, affecting the appearance and ability to move. It can also cause deformities of the legs, nose, palate, and upper jaw.

Calling your health care provider

Contact your health care provider if you or your child has sores on the skin or bone that don't go away, and you have stayed in tropical areas where yaws is known to occur.

Prevention

Widespread campaigns in the 1950s and 1960s to wipe out yaws through penicillin treatment have dramatically decreased the number of cases worldwide.

References

Hook III EW. Nonsyphilitic treponematoses. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 328.

Updated: 2/4/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com