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By Kim Eckhart; this story originally appeared in UW Today

As the World Health Organization steps up its efforts to eradicate a once-rampant tropical disease, a University of Washington study suggests that monitoring, and potentially treating, the monkeys that co-exist with humans in affected parts of the world may be part of the global strategy.

Yaws, an infectious disease that causes disfiguring skin lesions and bone destruction — stems from a bacterium, Treponema pallidum, that also has been found in certain primates in Africa and Asia. The disease, treatable with a one-time dose of penicillin or, as part of the renewed eradication effort, the antibiotic azithromycin, has experienced a significant resurgence in the past two decades.

UW researchers and colleagues examined macaques in South and Southeast Asia, where the monkeys live in the wild, temples and villages, or are kept as pets.

While researchers could not identify how a particular animal became infected, treponemal infections are known to be transmitted by contact with the skin lesion of an infected individual, so a pet macaque could potentially pick up the bacteria, said Lisa Jones-Engel, a UW research assistant professor of anthropology who led the study.

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Professor Sheila Lukehart co-authored the study.

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