Chancroid is a bacterial infection that causes open sores on or around the genitals of men and women. It is a type of venereal disease (transmitted through sexual contact) that is rarely seen in the United States. It mostly occurs in developing countries, particularly in the Global South.
The bacterium Haemophilus ducreyi causes chancroid. It attacks the tissue and produces an open sore (sometimes referred to as a chancroid or ulcer) on or near the external reproductive organs of men and women. The ulcer may bleed or produce a contagious fluid that can spread bacteria during oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse. Chancroid may also spread from skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
If you are sexually active, you may be at risk for chancroid. If you travel to or live in countries without sufficient resources (healthcare, food, shelter, and water), you may be more at risk than people who live in places with abundant resources, such as the United States and Britain.
The symptoms may vary in men and women but typically begin one day to several weeks after exposure.
Men may notice a small, red bump on the genitals that may change to an open sore within a day or two. The ulcer may form on any area of the genitals, including the penis and scrotum.
Women may develop four or more red bumps on the labia, between the labia and anus, or on the thighs. The labia are the folds of skin that cover the female genitals. After the bumps become ulcerated (open), women may experience a burning or painful sensation during urination or bowel movements.
Additional Symptoms for Men and Women
- The ulcers can vary in size—usually anywhere from 1/8 of an inch to about 2 inches across.
- The ulcers have a soft center that is grayish to yellowish-gray and defined (sharp) edges.
- The ulcers may bleed easily if touched.
- Pain may occur during sexual intercourse or while urinating.
- Swelling in the groin (where the lower abdomen and thigh meet) may occur. This occurs in about half of those infected with chancroid, according to data from the National Center for Biotechnology Information. (NCBI)
- Swollen lymph nodes can break through the skin and lead to large abscesses (collections of pus) that drain. This occurs in about 50 percent of those with lymph node swelling. (NCBI)
Diagnosing the condition may involve taking samples of the fluid that drains from the sore. These samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis. Diagnosing chancroid is currently not possible through blood testing. Your physician may also examine the lymph nodes in your groin for swelling and pain.
Chancroid may be successfully treated with medication. It may go away on its own, but it may take several months to completely clear up. Medication is often faster and more productive.
Antibiotics may be prescribed to kill the bacteria that are causing your ulcers. Antibiotics may help decrease the chance of scarring as the ulcer heals.
A physician may opt to drain a large and painful abscess in the lymph nodes with a needle or through surgery. This reduces swelling and pain as the sore heals but might cause some light scarring at the site.
The condition is curable if treated. Chancroid sores may heal without noticeable scarring if all medications are taken as prescribed by your physician. Untreated chancroid conditions may cause permanent scarring on the genitals of men and lead to serious complications (infections) in women.
Men and women may avoid getting this disease by using protection (condoms) during sexual contact.
Other preventative measures include:
- limiting the amount of sexual partners and practicing safe sex
- avoiding high-risk activities that may lead to getting chancroid or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- alerting all partners if you develop the condition (they may be tested and treated as well)