Chancroid: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Chancroid is a bacterial infection that causes open sores on or around the genitals of men and women. It’s a type of sexually transmitted disease (STD), most common in developing nations.

Chancroid is caused by the bacterium Haemophilus ducreyi. It attacks tissue in the genital area and produces an open sore that’s sometimes referred to as a ulcer. The ulcer may bleed or produce a contagious fluid that can spread bacteria during vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse.

READ ALSO: Facts about Sexually Transmitted Diseases, STDs

Chancroid may also spread during skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

Who is at risk for chancroid?

Sexually active people are at risk for developing chancroid. If you travel to or live in a country that’s lacking in certain resources, such as healthcare, shelter, food, or water – you may be more at risk than people who live in places with abundant resources.

Risk factors for chancroid include:

  • heterosexual male
  • poverty
  • sex with commercial sex workers
  • excessive use of drug and alcohol
  • anything associated with higher risk sexual practices
  • multiple partners

Symptoms of Chancroid

The symptoms may vary in men and women, but typically they start to manifest about four to seven days after exposure.

Symptoms in men

Men may notice:

  • Small, red bump on their genitals that may change to an open sore within a day or two.
  • Ulcer may form on any area of the genitals, including the penis and scrotum.
  • Ulcers are painful

Symptoms in Women

Women may develop:

  • Four or more red bumps on the labia, between the labia and anus, or on the thighs. (The labia are the folds of skin that cover the female genitals).
  • Bumps may become open
  • Burning or painful sensation during urination or bowel movements.

READ ALSO: 8 Common Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Men

Additional symptoms in men and women

The following symptoms can occur in both men and women:

  • The ulcers can vary in size and are commonly anywhere from 1/8 to 2 inches across.
  • The ulcers have a soft center that’s gray or yellowish-gray with distinct, or sharp, edges.
  • The ulcers may bleed easily if touched.
  • Pain may occur during sexual intercourseor when passing out urine.
  • Inflammation in the groin, which is where the lower abdomen and thigh meet, may occur.
  • Swollen lymph nodescan break through the skin and lead to large abscesses or pus that drain.


Samples of the fluid that drains from the sore may be taken to diagnose chancroid. These samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis. Diagnosing chancroid currently isn’t possible through blood testing. Your doctor may also examine the lymph nodes in your groin for inflammation and pain.

READ ALSO: Female Genital Sores

Treating chancroid

Chancroid may be successfully treated with medication or surgery.


Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria that are causing your ulcers. Antibiotics may also help decrease the chance of scarring as the ulcer heals.

Your doctor may drain a large and painful abscess in your lymph nodes with a needle or through surgery. This reduces swelling and pain as the sore heals but might cause some light scarring at the site.

What is to be expected in the long term?

Chancroid can be treated if detected on time. Chancroid sores may heal without obvious scarring if all medications are taken as prescribed by your doctor. Untreated chancroid conditions may cause permanent scarring on the genitals of men and lead to serious complications and infections in women.

If you’re diagnosed with chancroid, you’re also at risk for all other STDs so you should be tested.


You can avoid getting this disease by:

  • limiting the number of sexual partners and practicing safe sex
  • using condoms during sexual intercourse
  • avoiding high-risk activities that may lead to getting chancroid or other sexually transmitted infections


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