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The rules of lycanthropy on p207 of the Monster Manual state that a werewolf characters "gains a Strength of 15 if his or her score isn't already higher, and a +1 bonus to AC while in wolf or hybrid form (from natural armor)."

I interpret this to mean that the Strength bonus is always in effect, but I think it's ambiguous. Is the 15 Strength always in effect?

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Correct.

Pg. 207

Player Characters as Lycanthropes
A character who becomes a lycanthrope retains his or her statistics except as specified by lycanthrope type.

Werewolf
Character gains a strength of 15 if his or her score isn't already higher.

There are several references to non-transformed changes in the text around lycanthropy such as:

A werewolf is a savage predator. In its humanoid form a werewolf has heightened senses, a fiery temper, and a tendency to eat rare meat.

As well as in the description of the curse of lycanthropy on page 206

In its natural humanoid form, a creature cursed by lycanthropy appears as its normal self. Over time, however, many lycanthropes acquire features suggestive of their animal form.

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