Chancroid can cause ulcers with soft edges (soft chancres) to form on your genitals. You may also have swelling and pain in the lymph nodes of your groin. Antibiotics can cure the disease. Abstaining from sex can prevent it.
Chancroid (also called soft chancre) is a bacterial infection caused by Haemophilus ducreyi (H. ducreyi). Chancroid is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD). You might also hear of diseases that are spread through sex called sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Even though chancroid is very contagious, it’s curable.
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Syphilis and chancroid are both diseases that are spread through sex, but the germ that causes syphilis isn’t the same as the one that causes chancroid, and treatment is different.
If you have syphilis, you could have a chancre. This is a hard sore or an ulcer that usually forms where the bacteria enters your body, most often in your genital area, but also in your mouth or anus. A chancre usually doesn’t cause pain.
Chancroid is the disease, not the sore. In chancroid, you’ll have a soft chancre (ulcer). These are often painful and red. They don’t have hard edges and they may leak pus.
Rates of chancroid in the U.S. and Europe are low, with cases happening only sporadically. It’s more common in developing countries around the world.
One problem with getting actual numbers on chancroid is that it’s difficult to diagnose. It’s often lumped in with other conditions under the term “genital ulcer disease (GUD).”
Anyone who has unprotected sex can get chancroid, but it’s more common in people with uncircumcised penises. Women are often asymptomatic.
The incubation period (the time between when you’ve been exposed and when you develop symptoms) for chancroid is about three to seven days. The signs and symptoms of chancroid include:
Women may not be aware of the sores, but they can be painful in men.
Chancroid is a very contagious bacterial disease spread by sexual contact. The bacterium that causes chancroid is called Haemophilus ducreyi (H. ducreyi).
Scientists think that H. ducreyi enters your body through tiny tears in the skin during sexual activity, as it usually doesn’t infect skin that doesn’t have any abrasions.
However, the germ has caused skin ulcers in children and young adults in places like Africa and the South Pacific. The infected fluid (pus) from the ulcer can be transferred to someone without sexual contact.
It’s somewhat difficult to diagnose chancroid. Scientists can use a test with specialized media to find H. ducreyi, but the media isn’t widely available and the test isn’t 100% accurate. Also, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved any polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for chancroid. This type of test finds genetic material from an organism like a virus if you have the virus at the time of the test, or fragments even after you’re no longer infected.
Your healthcare provider will want to rule out syphilis, herpes or lymphogranuloma venereum.
Because of the difficulties with testing, your healthcare provider will diagnose chancroid if:
Your healthcare provider will give you antibiotics to treat chancroid, prescribing one of the following:
You should be feeling better after one to two weeks. Your soft chancres should also start to clear up. If the case was very bad, you might have scars where the ulcers were.
If treatment isn’t successful, your healthcare provider will order additional tests. There’s a chance the diagnosis was wrong or that there’s another viral infection involved.
Another thing to consider is that genital ulcer disease, including chancroid, can make it easier to transmit human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
If you have chancroid and it’s not treated, the sores will probably clear up on their own in one or two months. However, you’re at a higher risk of developing suppurative lymphadenitis, an infection of the soft tissue.
There some things you can do to reduce your risk of developing chancroid, including:
Chancroid can be treated. If you’re treated, your outlook is good. If you’re not treated, the sores may heal, but you could be more likely to develop a soft tissue infection.
You should be tested for other types of diseases passed through sexual contact, too.
If you develop suppurative lymphadenitis (soft tissue infection), you’re also at risk for the development of fistulas (a type of abnormal tunnel between organs). The tissues of your genitals are at risk of infections that can be destructive, as well.
If you have any type of sore or pain in your genitals, you should talk to your healthcare provider. If you’re diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD), you should tell anyone you’ve had sex with, especially those people who might’ve been exposed in the 10 days before you developed symptoms.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Chancroid is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that results in sores on your genitals. You might see a soft chancre, an ulcer with ragged edges. The sore may be painful and contain pus. It’s always important to contact your healthcare provider when you have any type of sore or pain in your genitals. Remember to provide accurate information, too, so your doctor can properly diagnose you. The good news is, this type of STD can be cleared up completely with antibiotics.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/04/2022.
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