If you are sexually active, it is important that you and each of your sexual partners be tested regularly for STDs. There are a number of STDs that can easily be transmitted, most of which have devastating physical side effects if not treated. Unfortunately, far too many people are unfamiliar with most types of sexually transmitted diseases. Lymphogranuloma venereum is one type of STD that is uncommon in the United States, but has experienced a resurgence in Europe. Lymphogranuloma venereum can be treated successfully, but, if left untreated, the disease can cause a number of serious physical complications.
What is Lymphogranuloma Venereum?
Lymphogranuloma venereum is a sexually transmitted disease caused by three strains of the Chlamydia trachomates bacteria. This infection causes your genital lymph glands to become swollen and inflamed, and can lead to lymph gland rupture and other health complications. Though very uncommon in the United States (fewer than 600 cases occur every year), lymphogranuloma venereum is endemic to certain tropical areas, particularly South America, the Caribbean, and Asia. There has also been a recent outbreak of the infection in Europe.
How is Lymphogranuloma Venereum Transmitted?
Lymphogranuloma venereum is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. In order to get the disease, you must come into contact with the areas of the body that are infectious, primarily, the genitals. This makes sexual contact the most common method of transmission. You can become infected by participating in:
- vaginal intercourse
- anal intercourse
- oral intercourse
- mutual masturbation
Who's At Risk for Contracting Lymphogranuloma Venereum?
All men and women are at some risk, however quite low, for contracting lymphogranuloma venereum. Your risk for contracting the disease increases if you:
- have multiple sexual partners
- engage in unprotected sex
- frequently visit areas where the infection is endemic
Symptoms of Lymphogranuloma Venereum
Symptoms of lymphogranuloma venereum typically begin within three and 30 days of initial infection. Symptoms occur in stages:
Stage one of the infection begins with the appearance of painless, red ulcers on the penis or vagina. These ulcers are typically between three and five millimeters in diameter, and usually heal within a couple of days. Most people infected with lymphogranuloma venereum are unaware of the presence of these ulcers.
Stage two of the infection begins within two and six weeks of the disappearance of the initial ulcers. At this time, the bacteria have infected the lymph glands in the groin area, causing them to become swollen and enlarged. Known as "buboes," these lymph glands can become very painful and may rupture and leak a pus-like discharge. Additional symptoms occurring during this stage include:
- fever and chills
- joint pain
- abdominal or back pain
Stage three of the infection is associated with the most severe symptoms. During this stage, buboes can appear in the rectal region, making it difficult to pass stools without pain. Other symptoms include bloody diarrhea and a pus-like discharge from the rectum.
Complications of Lymphogranuloma Venereum
If left untreated, lymphogranuloma venereum can become quite dangerous. Complications include:
- scarring of the rectum
- narrowing of the rectum, leading to rectal blockage
- enlargement of the genitals (elephantiasis)
- brain inflammation (though this is very rare)
Treatment for Lymphogranuloma Venereum
If you are diagnosed with the infection, there are effective treatments available. Diagnosis of this STD usually includes a blood test (which looks for the presence of the chlamydia bacteria) and a needle biopsy of infected lymph glands. Treatment involves oral antibiotics, including:
These antibiotics are taken daily for three weeks, or until the infection has cleared.
Preventing Lymphogranuloma Venereum
The only sure way to prevent contracting lymphogranuloma venereum and other types of STDs is by abstaining from all sexual activity. If you are sexually active it is important that you limit the number of sexual partners that you have, and be sure to use a condom during all sexual activities. If you notice any symptoms of an STD, visit your health care provider for an examination as soon as possible, and refrain from any type of sexual activity.