Study reports the emergence and spread of azithromycin-resistant Treponema pallidum subspecies

  • The Lancet
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Yaws is a substantial cause of chronic disfiguring ulcers in children in at least 14 countries in the tropics. WHO’s newly adopted strategy for yaws eradication uses a single round of mass azithromycin treatment followed by targeted treatment programmes, and data from pilot studies have shown a short-term significant reduction of yaws. We assessed the long-term efficacy of the WHO strategy for yaws eradication.


Between April 15, 2013, and Oct 24, 2016, we did a longitudinal study on a Papua New Guinea island (Lihir; 16 092 population) in which yaws was endemic. In the initial study, the participants were followed for 12 months; in this extended follow-up study, clinical, serological, and PCR surveys were continued every 6 months for 42 months. We used genotyping and travel history to identify importation events. Active yaws confirmed by PCR specific for Treponema pallidum was the primary outcome indicator. The study is registered with, number NCT01955252.


Mass azithromycin treatment (coverage rate of 84%) followed by targeted treatment programmes reduced the prevalence of active yaws from 1.8% to a minimum of 0.1% at 18 months (difference from baseline –1.7%, 95% CI, –1.9 to –1.4; p


The implementation of the WHO strategy did not, in the long-term, achieve elimination in a high-endemic community mainly due to the individuals who were absent at the time of mass treatment in whom yaws reactivated; repeated mass treatment might be necessary to eliminate yaws. To our knowledge, this is the first report of the emergence of azithromycin-resistant T p pertenue and spread within one village. Communities’ surveillance should be strengthened to detect any possible treatment failure and biological markers of resistance.


ISDIN laboratories, Newcrest Mining Limited, and US Public Health Service National Institutes of Health.