What is a chancroid?

Chancroid is a bacterial infection that causes open sores on or around the genitals of men and women. It’s a type of sexually transmitted disease (STD), which means it’s transmitted through sexual contact. It’s rarely seen in the United States. It occurs most frequently in developing nations.

The bacterium Haemophilus ducreyi causes this infection. 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 an infected person.

If you’re sexually active, you may be at risk for chancroid. If you travel to or live in a country that’s lacking in certain resources, you may be more at risk than people who live in places with abundant resources. These resources include:

  • healthcare
  • food
  • shelter
  • water

If you’re a heterosexual male or a minority, you’re risk of chancroid increases. Other risk factors for chancroid include:

  • poverty
  • sex with commercial sex workers
  • drug and alcohol use disorder
  • anything associated with higher risk sexual practices
  • multiple partners

The symptoms may vary in men and women, but typically they begin four to seven days after exposure.


Men may notice a small, red bump on their 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. The ulcers are frequently painful.


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, or open, women may experience a burning or painful sensation during urination or bowel movements.

Additional symptoms in men and women

The following symptoms can occur in both men and women:

  • The ulcers can vary in size and are usually anywhere from 1/8 to 2 inches across.
  • The ulcers have a soft center that’s gray to yellowish-gray with defined, or sharp, edges.
  • The ulcers may bleed easily if touched.
  • Pain may occur during sexual intercourse or while urinating.
  • Swelling in the groin, which is where the lower abdomen and thigh meet, may occur.
  • Swollen lymph nodes can break through the skin and lead to large abscesses, or collections of pus, that drain.

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.

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.


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 physician. Untreated chancroid conditions may cause permanent scarring on the genitals of men and lead to serious complications and infections in women.

If you’re diagnosed with chancroid, you’re also at risk for all other STDs so you should be tested for them as well. Additionally, people who are HIV positive that contract chancroid tend to heal more slowly.

You can avoid getting this disease by using condoms during sexual contact.

Other preventive measures include:

  • limiting the number of sexual partners and practicing safe sex
  • avoiding high-risk activities that may lead to getting chancroid or other sexually transmitted infections
  • alerting all partners if you develop the condition so that they may be tested and treated as well