In developed countries, chancroid is rare. In 2018, only 3 cases of chancroid were reported in the United States. But it is a common cause of genital sores throughout much of the developing world. Because chancroid causes genital sores, people who have it are more likely to become infected with and to spread the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
(See also Overview of Sexually Transmitted Diseases.)
Symptoms begin 3 to 7 days after infection. Small, painful blisters form on the genitals or around the anus and rapidly rupture to form shallow, open sores with ragged edges. These sores may enlarge and join together. Occasionally, these sores become deeper and damage other tissues.
The lymph nodes in the groin may become tender, enlarged, and matted together, forming collections of pus (abscesses) called buboes. The skin over the abscess may become red and shiny and may break down and discharge pus from the lymph nodes onto the skin. Sores may form in other areas of the skin.
Doctors suspect chancroid in people with one or more painful genital sores (ulcers) that have no obvious cause, especially if they have been in areas of the world where the infection is common.
Usually, doctors take a sample of pus or fluid from a sore and send it to a laboratory to be grown (cultured). However, culturing and identifying these bacteria are difficult, so the diagnosis relies more on symptoms and likelihood of being exposed to the infection.
The following general measures can help prevent chancroid (and other sexually transmitted diseases):
Regular and correct use of condoms
Avoidance of unsafe sex practices, such as frequently changing sex partners or having sexual intercourse with prostitutes or with partners who have other sex partners
Prompt diagnosis and treatment of the infection (to prevent spread to other people)
Identification of the sexual contacts of infected people, followed by counseling or treatment of these contacts
Not having sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) is the most reliable way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases but is often unrealistic.
Several antibiotics are effective for chancroid. The following may be used:
If buboes are causing discomfort, doctors may make an incision to drain them. This treatment is done only if people are taking antibiotics to control the infection.
If initial test results for syphilis and HIV infection are negative, doctors recommend that people with chancroid come back in 3 months to be tested again for syphilis and HIV infection, which may also be present.
If sex partners have had sexual contact with the infected person during the 10 days before the person's symptoms began, they are examined and treated regardless of whether they have symptoms of chancroid.