Chancroid is a bacterial condition that causes open sores on or around the genitals. It’s a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI), which means it’s transmitted through sexual contact.
It’s rarely seen in the United States. Globally, incidence has declined, but it may still be seen in some areas of Africa and the Caribbean.
The bacterium Haemophilus ducreyi causes this condition. It attacks tissue in the genital area and produces an open sore that’s sometimes referred to as a chancroid or ulcer.
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 a contagious person.
If you’re sexually active, you may be at risk for chancroid. If you travel to or live in a country where the condition is more common, you may be more at risk.
If you’re a heterosexual male, your risk for chancroid increases. Other risk factors for chancroid include:
- sex with commercial sex workers
- drug or alcohol use disorder
- anything associated with higher risk sexual practices
- multiple partners
The symptoms may vary, but typically they begin 4 to 7 days after exposure.
People with a penis
Men and others with a penis may notice a small, red bump on their genitals that may change to an open sore within a day or so.
The ulcer may form on any area of the genitals, including the penis and scrotum. The ulcers are frequently painful.
People with a vagina
Women and others with a vagina 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, or open, women may experience a burning or painful sensation during urination or bowel movements.
Additional symptoms and characteristics
Here are symptoms and characteristics to help recognize chancroid:
Ulcers due to chancroid can have the following characteristics:
- The ulcers can vary in size and are usually anywhere from
1 to 2 cm across. Some may be larger.
- The ulcers have a soft center that’s gray to yellowish-gray with defined, or sharp, edges.
- The ulcers may bleed easily if touched.
The following chancroid symptoms can occur in anyone:
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 currently isn’t possible through blood testing. Your doctor may also examine the lymph nodes in your groin for swelling and pain.
It’s important to note that chancroid can sometimes be difficult to diagnose on visual examination alone due to its similar appearance to STIs such as genital herpes and syphilis.
These two STIs often
Chancroid may be successfully treated with medication or surgery.
Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria that are causing your ulcers. Antibiotics may also help decrease the chance of scarring as the ulcer heals.
There are four antibiotics that are typically used to treat chancroid. They are:
Your doctor will determine which antibiotic and dosage is best based on your healthcare needs.
It’s important to take the antibiotic as your doctor prescribed and to take the entire course of antibiotics, even if you notice that your sores/ulcers have begun to improve.
Your doctor may drain a large and painful abscess in your 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 healthcare provider.
Untreated chancroid conditions may cause permanent scarring on the penis or lead to serious complications in those with a vagina.
If you’re diagnosed with chancroid, you’re also at risk for other STIs so you should be tested for them as well.
People who are diagnosed with chancroid are not only at a higher risk for acquiring HIV, but they’re also at a higher risk for transmitting the condition as well.
Additionally, people who are HIV positive who contract chancroid tend to heal more slowly.
You can avoid getting this disease by using condoms and other barrier methods during sexual contact.
Other preventive measures include:
- limiting the number of sexual partners and practicing safer sex
- avoiding activities that may increase the chances of you contracting chancroid or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- alerting all partners if you develop the condition so that they may be tested and treated as well