Chancroid: Everything you need to know
21st May 2019
When it comes to the world of STI’s, most people know about the 5 main ones; Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Genital Herpes, Genital warts and HIV. But there are actually a whole host of sexually transmitted infections which most people know very little about; Hepatitis B, trichomoniasis, syphilis, to name a few. Another lesser known STI is Chancroid. Would you know how to spot it or how to treat it if you found yourself infected?
Chancroid is characterised as a genital ulcerative disease, which is good because it makes it fairly easy to spot. Unlike some of its silent counterparts (Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, for example, are often asymptomatic), Chancroid causes a number of symptoms but primarily causes painful sores or ulcers on the genital area.
The symptoms vary slightly between men and women and so it’s important to know what to look out for based on your gender. Men often get only one genital ulcer (also known as a chancroid), which starts as a small red bump and then turns into an open sore after 1 or 2 days. Men can get more than one sore but this is uncommon, and the sore often appears on the head of the penis (but can appear anywhere in the genital region).
For women, they may often experience no symptoms at all, or ones that go unnoticed. However, if you do experience symptoms, then it’ll be the same sores that men get, however you’re likely to get many (4 or more) rather than just the one. These are often across the labia majora and labia minora, and can form as “kissing ulcers” (arranged on opposing sides of the labia).
Noticing sores on your genitals may make you jump straight to assuming that it’s genital herpes but it’s important to diagnose correctly as the treatments are very different. While genital herpes sores are normally arranged in clusters and look like small blisters filled with liquid, Chancroid sores appear one by one and tend to start off as small red bumps that resemble pimples, and then they become open sores after a couple of days. Once the sores have opened, they normally have a defined border, a jagged or irregular shape and a sunken base that appears white or grey in colour.
When Chancroid sores first appear, it’s easy to mistake them for syphilis sores but the key difference is the pain. While syphilis tends to cause only a little to no pain at all, Chancroid sores are extremely painful and can often bleed if touched or scraped. They also vary in size a lot, ranging from ⅛ to 2 inches across.
Additional symptoms (for males and females) include swollen lymph nodes and pain when urinating or having sex (although sex, when infected with Chancroid, is not advisable).
Like all other STI’s, the clue is in the title; Chancroid is spread by sexual intercourse or sexual contact. The actual cause is a bacteria called Haemophilus ducreyi but identifying this bacteria can be tricky. There is no standard test for Chancroid but it is usually diagnosed by assessing your symptoms and ruling out other, similar STI’s with their associated tests.
Symptoms of Chancroid typically begin to appear 3-10 days after being infected and it’s a highly contagious STI. Although Chancroid is fairly rare in developed countries like the UK and the US, it is still the most common cause of genital ulceration worldwide.
Although Chancroid is painful and can cause distress due to its rarity and the lack of knowledge about it, the good news is that it’s curable. Because the infection is caused by a bacterium, Chancroid can be cleared by taking a short course of antibiotics. This will usually either be 1g of Azithromycin, taken as a single dose, or 500mg of Ciprofloxacin for 3 days.
Assuming that you take all prescribed medications correctly and the particular strain of Chancroid bacteria that you have is not resistant, then you should notice an improvement in symptoms in 3-7 days. However, full recovery time completely depends on the severity of your sores and large ones may take up to 2 weeks to heal fully.
Because Chancroid is highly contagious, it’s important to practise good hygiene while sores are present, as not doing so can result in spreading the sores on to other areas of your body. Treating Chancroid is important because left untreated, the infection can increase your chances of contracting other STI’s, in particular HIV.
You should also practise safe sex following an infection to avoid future cases of Chancroid, by using condoms and getting yourself tested regularly.