Chancroid — what's that?

Originally Published: May 21, 2004 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 21, 2009
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Dear Alice,

What is Chancroid?
What are the symptoms?
How is it diagnosed?
How is it treated?
What can happen if it's not treated?
How many children are affected by this and are newborn babies affected, too?

Dear Reader,

Chancroid (it starts with a "sh" sound) is a bacterial infection passed through sexual contact. The bacteria, Haemophilus ducreyi, are transmitted when someone comes into contact with an infected individual's sores. Painful, open sores and swollen lymph nodes in the groin area are the primary symptoms of chancroid. Infected individuals should expect to see the sores appear as tender red bumps occurring in or around the genital and anal areas within 1 to 2 weeks after contact with an infected individual. The sores grow and become more like ulcers, and they may begin bleeding. Sores will not spread to other areas of the body. It may be possible for H. ducreyi to be transmitted between individuals even without active sores.

To test for chancroid, your health care provider would examine the sores and swollen lymph nodes visually, and would collect a sample from one of the sores for a laboratory test. Blood tests are not available for chancroid.
Chancroid is treated with antibiotics, which usually heal the sores with minimal scarring within 3 to 7 days. Sometimes recovery takes longer, depending on the size of the ulcer(s) and the individual; some people experience pain for several months. Treatment can also include draining lymph nodes if they are large. As usual with antibiotics, completing the treatment regimen, even if someone starts to feel better before s/he's finished the medication, is essential for maximum effectiveness. The individual needs to see a health care provider at the end of the treatment period to ensure that the infection has cleared up. People with a chancroid infection should refrain from vaginal and anal intercourse, as well as oral sex, until the treatment is complete. If chancroid isn't treated, it can cause damage to the skin and genitals. Chancroid is known to increase a person's chance of getting (and transmitting) HIV.

As with other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), the key lies in prevention. Using a condom and/or dam correctly and consistently is a good idea, but they won't protect against chancroid if they aren't covering an area with an active sore. Avoiding alcohol and other drugs when you have sex helps you remember to use protection for safer sex and be more observant about your partner(s) and any sores or marks in his/her genital area.

Chancroid is relatively rare in the United States, but more prevalent in developing countries. Many of the few hundred cases diagnosed here each year are in sexually active individuals who have traveled to areas where the disease is more common. As for your final question, no cases of a newborn getting chancroid from a mother with either active sores or prior history of the disease have been reported.

For more information about chancroid, you can check the following resources:

American Social Health Association's Chancroid Page

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National STD and AIDS Page
or Hotline: 1.800.227.8922 or 1.800.342.AIDS (2437)

Finally, if you're interested in learning about other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), see below. Take care,

Alice