Indexed on: 12 Aug '14Published on: 12 Aug '14Published in: The Lancet Global Health
Skin infections with ulceration are a major health problem in countries of the south Pacific region. Yaws, caused by Treponema pallidum subspecies pertenue and diagnosed by the presence of skin ulcers and a reactive syphilis serology, is one major cause, but this infection can be confused clinically with ulcers due to other causative agents. We investigated T pallidum pertenue and another bacterium known to cause skin infections in the Pacific islands-Haemophilus ducreyi-as causes of skin ulceration in a yaws-endemic region. Additionally, we identified specific signs and symptoms associated with these causative agents of cutaneous ulcers and compared these findings with laboratory-based diagnoses.We did a prospective cohort study of five yaws-endemic villages (total population 3117 people) during a yaws elimination campaign in Papua New Guinea in April, 2013. We enrolled all consenting patients with chronic moist or exudative skin ulcers. We undertook a detailed dermatological assessment, syphilis serology, and PCR on lesional swabs to detect the presence of T pallidum pertenue and H ducreyi. Patients with PCR-confirmed bacterial infections were included in a comparative analysis of demographics and clinical features.Full outcome data were available for 90 people with skin ulcers. Of these patients, 17 (19%) had negative results in all molecular tests and were therefore excluded from the comparative analyses. A bacterial cause was identified in 73 (81%) participants-either H ducreyi (n=42), T pallidum pertenue (yaws; n=19), or coinfection with both organisms (dual infection; n=12). The demographic characteristics of the patients infected with yaws and with H ducreyi were similar. Skin lesions in patients with yaws and in those with dual infection were larger than those in patients infected with H ducreyi (p=0·071). The lesions in patients with yaws and dual infection were more circular in shape (79% and 67%) than in those infected with H ducreyi (21%; p<0·0001); more likely to have central granulating tissue (90% and 67% vs 14%; p<0·0001); and more likely to have indurated edges (74% and 83% vs 31%; p=0·0003). The prevalence of reactive combined serology (positive T pallidum haemagglutination test and rapid plasmin reagin titre of ≥1:8) was higher in cases of yaws (63%) and dual infections (92%) than in H ducreyi infections (29%; p<0·0001).In this yaws-endemic community, H ducreyi is an important and previously unrecognised cause of chronic skin ulceration. Reactive syphilis serology caused by latent yaws can occur in ulcers with the presence of H ducreyi alone. The introduction of PCR for ulcer surveillance could improve the accuracy of diagnosis in countries with yaws eradication campaigns.Newcrest Mining Company.