If you are currently sexually active, or are thinking about becoming sexually active, it is important to become familiar with all of the health risks involved. Unprotected or unsafe sexual practices can dramatically increase your risks of developing a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Many of these STDs have a number of unpleasant side effects and can lead to severe health complications. Chancroid is one of the less common STDs, but it is associated with some very painful and serious side effects. If you suspect that you or your partner has become infected with chancroid, it is important to get tested as soon as possible. Effective treatment for chancroid is available from your healthcare provider.
What is Chancroid?
Chancroid is an infection that is caused by the bacteria Haemophilus ducreyi. Often transmitted through sexual contact, chancroid is associated with a number of unpleasant side effects: primarily the development of painful, pus-filled ulcers in the genital region. Chancroid is very common in tropical areas of the world, particularly in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Though less common in the United States, sexually active men and women are still at risk for contracting the disease. Infections typically occur in clusters, often resulting in an outbreak in small towns or communities. Chancroid can be easily diagnosed and treated by your health care provider.
How is Chancroid Transmitted?
Chancroid is most commonly transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person. It can be transmitted through:
- vaginal intercourse
- oral sex
- anal sex
- mutual masturbation
Chancroid can also be transmitted through direct, skin-to-skin contact with an infected person's ulcers.
Who's At Risk For Developing Chancroid?
Every man or women who is sexually active is at risk for developing chancroid. However, the infection is uncommon in the United States, affecting fewer than 400 people every year. Certain factors do appear to increase the risk of infection, though. These risk factors include:
- HIV infection
- being an uncircumcised male
- engaging in unprotected sex
- having multiple sex partners
What are the Symptoms of Chancroid?
The first chancroid symptoms typically appear within two and seven days of infection; rarely, symptoms can take up to a month to manifest. Those infected typically notice the appearance of raised, red bumps on the genital region. In men, these bumps usually develop on the penis or perinanal region. In women, bumps generally appear on the labia, cervix, vagina, or rectum. Within a few days, these bumps become filled with pus and eventually rupture, leaving painful, open sores in the genital region. These open sores are known as ulcers, and can range from one to three centimeters in diameter. Ulcers can bleed or ooze pus and can take weeks to heal without medication.
In 50% of chancroid infections, the infection also presents itself in the lymph glands in the genital region. These glands become hard and swollen, and may fill with pus. Known as "buboes," these swellings can burst, becoming extremely painful.
Complications of Chancroid
Chancroid can be treated effectively, minimizing the chance of complications associated with the infection. The most common complications of chancroid include:
- scarring (as a result of numerous ulcers)
- ruptured genital lymph glands
Diagnosing and Treating Chancroid
If you suspect that you may have chancroid, it is important that you visit your health care provider. The infection can be diagnosed relatively easily and can be treated in a very short period of time. Your health care provider will take a swab from one of your ulcers and examine it under a microscope for evidence of the chancroid bacteria. If you test positive, chancroid treatment usually involves oral antibiotics. The most commonly used antibiotics include:
Typically, ulcers begin to heal within two weeks. It is important to refrain from sexual contact until all of your ulcers are healed. Buboes need to be drained by your health care provider. This is usually done with a needle, under local anesthetic.
The best way to prevent chancroid is to abstain from sexual contact or to use protection when you are sexually active. Be sure to use a condom every time you have sex and limit your number of sexual partners. Be sure that you and your partners get checked regularly for STDs.