In the common era, medical treatments are available to cure and even prevent many past illnesses that afflicted mankind. Yaws is an infection that occurs in humid, tropical areas. In the past, yaws was prevalent in West Africa, India, South America, and Southeast Asia, but many organized attempts have helped lower its prevalence. In early stages, the disease is easily treated with penicillin, yet it still ravages many bodies.
What is it?
Yaws infection is caused by a bacteria (Treponema pertenue is the particular bacteria involved.) The infection is transferred mainly by touch, but is not sexually transmitted. This being said, it is especially detrimental in overpopulated areas. According to the World Health organization, “Overcrowding, poor personal hygiene and poor sanitation facilitate the spread of the disease.” The majority of infected persons are children and teens.
The infection comes in multiple stages. WebMD characterizes the stages as such:
The first stage is characterized by the appearance of small, painless bumps on the skin that group together and grow until they resemble a strawberry. The skin may break open, forming an ulcer. The second stage (usually starting several weeks or months after the first) presents with a crispy, crunchy rash that may cover arms, legs, buttocks and/or face. If the bottoms of the feet are involved, walking is painful and the stage is known as “crab yaws.” Stage 3 yaws involves the long bones, joints, and/or skin.
In the early stages, yaws is treated by a single injection of penicillin. This typically fixes the issue, although advanced lesions may leave scarring. If yaws is not treated, it can live in the body for a number of years. After five years, painful deformities of the bone may occur in some victims. Deformities usually occur in the nose, jaw, and legs.
Although treatment for the infection is widely available, victims in poor regions aren’t always able to get or afford it. Many organized attempts to eradicate the infection have been made. WHO, UNICEF, and other such groups have made massive attempts to treat and control yaws, but drops in political interest and funding have hindered further progress. Millions of people were treated due to these organized efforts, however, and many groups are working solo to continue offering treatment.
Yaws has been recognized in human skeletons for many years. Perhaps with a little effort and interest, it will soon be another of the many afflictions that mankind will only recognize as ancient history.
World Health Organization