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Chancroid Symptoms & Treatment

What is Chancroid?

Chancroid is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Haemophilus ducreyi. It is a highly contagious but curable disease. 

Chancroid was once highly prevalent worldwide, but thanks to increased social awareness leading to better sexual practices, along with improved diagnosis and treatment options, it is nowadays rarely seen in industrialized countries. However, it still occurs frequently in underdeveloped areas, including certain parts of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. It is most prevalent in lower socioeconomic groups, and is associated with commercial sex workers.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms typically begin 4 to 10 days after sexual exposure. Patients usually develop a small, red pustule on the genitals that breaks down within a day or two to form a painful, soft ulcer with irregular borders.

About half of infected males develop a solitary ulcer whereas women usually develop 4 or more ulcers. In males, the ulcer can be located anywhere on the genitals, including the penis and scrotum. In females, the ulcers can occur on the labia, between the labia and anus, and along the inner thigh. 

Lymph node swelling in the groin may accompany shortly thereafter, and these may break through the skin and form large draining abscesses (collections of pus). These swollen lymph nodes and abscesses are referred to as buboes. With lymph node involvement, fever, chills and malaise (general feeling of illness) may also develop.

Other symptoms of Chancroid include rectal bleeding, pain with bowel movements, vaginal discharge, painful urination (women) and pain during sexual intercourse (women).

Is Chancroid associated with other subtypes of genital ulcer diseases that include other STDs, such as HSV-2, syphilis, and LGV?

Chancroid is one of the causes of genital ulcer diseases, which includes Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Type 2, Syphilis and Lymphogranuloma Venereum (LGV). There is no direct association, but any form of STD can increase your risk of contracting another STD, including Chancroid.

Genital ulcer diseases are concerning as their presence greatly increases the risk of HIV transmission, with a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating that the presence of genital ulcer diseases increases the risk of HIV transmission by 10%-50% in women and 50%-300% in men.

How do I test for Chancroid?

Currently there is no laboratory test that is able to immediately confirm the diagnosis of Chancroid. Haemophilus ducreyi can be isolated on a special culture media, but this is not readily available in many centres. Moreover, this technique has a sensitivity of <80%.

Diagnosis therefore is made based on clinical judgement. According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a probable diagnosis can be made if: 

  1. There is presence of one or more painful genital ulcers
  2. The presentation and appearance of the genital ulcers and, if present, enlarged groin lymph nodes are typical for Chancroid
  3. There is no evidence of syphilis infection on testing of the ulcer, or from blood test performed at least 7 days after onset of ulcers
  4. Swab testing of the ulcer for Herpes Simplex Virus is negative

What is the treatment for Chancroid?

Appropriate treatment of Chancroid cures the infection, reduces the complications, and prevents transmission. Treatment should be started as soon as a diagnosis of Chancroid is suspected due to the lack of appropriate fast and accurate laboratory testing.

The key treatment for Chancroid involves the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics may also help decrease the chance of scarring as the ulcer heals. Your doctor will choose the appropriate antibiotic for you. 

If buboes are present, they should be drained with either needle aspiration or surgery, in order to reduce swelling and pain. Sexual partners of patients with Chancroid should be informed to get examined and treated regardless of whether they have symptoms or not, if there was sexual contact within 10 days preceding the onset of symptoms.

If you would like to find out more about Chancroid, come down to any of our clinics for a consultation.

Stay safe, stay healthy.


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