Chancroid is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a type of bacteria not commonly found in the U.S. Chancroid causes ulcers to develop in the genital area, but the infection can be cured with antibiotics.
A bacterium called Haemophilus ducreyi causes chancroid. This type of bacteria is most common in Africa, the Caribbean, and other countries with tropical climates. It is uncommon in the United States. In fact, most U.S. cases are linked to sporadic outbreaks or someone who got the disease while traveling outside the country.
Chancroid causes one or more small bumps to appear on the genitals. The bumps usually develop within two weeks of becoming infected. After the bump first appears, it quickly becomes a soft, painful ulcer with these characteristics:
- About 1/8 inch to 2 inches in diameter
- Sharply defined borders
- Gray or yellow-gray base that bleeds easily
Men often have only one ulcer, usually on the penis or scrotum. Women are more likely to have four or more ulcers, typically on the outer labia and accompanied by symptoms such as pain during urination and sexual penetration. Some men and women with chancroid also experience enlarged lymph nodes in the groin area, which can cause abscesses to form.
People with one or more chancroid ulcers are very contagious. Infections are typically transmitted sexually via skin-to-skin contact with open sores. In rare cases, chancroid can spread through nonsexual contact if someone touches the fluid from an ulcer that has spread to another part of the body.
In some cases, chancroid resolves on its own. Healthcare providers can treat infections with antibiotics such as ceftriaxone, and drain problematic abscesses with a needle or surgically. If you have chancroid, it’s important to get tested for other STIs, such as syphilis, herpes, and HIV.