STD/STI: Chancroid

Chancroid is a bacterial infection that is only transmitted through sexual contact. It is rare in the US and other parts of the world with good access to antibiotics. It tends to be very common in developing nations and other parts of the world where antibiotics are difficult to get a hold off.

A white sore with red borders on the head of a penis.
Penile chancroid sore (Image is public domain from CDC)

Prevention: Chancroid is transmitted by direct skin to skin contact of the genitals. Male or female condoms should be effective prevention. If you choose not to use condoms, then do not engage in direct genital contact with anyone who has any kind of sore on their genitals. (That last really should be a ‘Duh’.)

Treatment: Chancroid infections can clear up on their own after a few weeks, but are painful and have potential complications. A single course of antibiotics will normally clear the infection up without any problems. Some chancroid strains have developed a resistance to specific antibiotics, but there is no known strain which is resistant to all antibiotics.

Symptoms: The main symptom of chancroid is a circular sore which develops between three days to two weeks after infection. The sores are round, with clearly defined edges. On the vagina, the source can be found on the outer labia, usually the inner surface but occasionally the outer surface. Sores can develop pretty much anywhere on the penis, including the opening of the penis, or on the scrotum. Chancroid sores resemble the typical sort of primary syphilis. After the sores develop, the lymph glands in the genital area often become swollen.

Diagnosis: Chancroid is usually diagnosed off of a visual examination. If there is some uncertainty as to the diagnosis, sores may be swabbed for testing.

Complications: Urethral fistulas and scarring may develop on the foreskin of an uncircumcised penis. If the infection goes untreated, abscesses from swollen lymph nodes may develop scarring. A chancroid infection may leave you vulnerable to infection by other STD/STI’s, including HIV and syphilis.

Given its restricted geographic range, and very visible symptoms, chancroid is not an STD/STI that many poly-folk need to worry about. If you live in an area where chancroid is common, use condoms and avoid genital contact with people who have open sores. If you don’t live in an area where chancroid is common, you should be doing the exact same thing anyway.