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Chancroid is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that causes painful ulcers to develop on or near the genitals. The Haemophilus ducreyi bacteria responsible for infection is widespread in tropical regions such as Africa and parts of South America and Asia, but not commonly found in more temperate climates. Chancroid symptoms may include the development of one or more open, painful lesions, tenderness in the groin, and swelling of local lymph nodes. The condition can cause significant physical discomfort and emotional distress, but it can usually be cured with a course of antibiotics.
A person typically begins to develop chancroid symptoms about one week after exposure to the bacteria. It is uncommon for problems to develop sooner than the three-day mark or after two weeks. A male is most likely to get a lesion on the tip of the penis or very near the tip on the shaft, though it is possible for an ulcer to arise on the scrotum or near the rectum as well. Women typically have lesions on the interior of the vagina or on the outer lips of the labia. Multiple lesions are more common in women, while men usually have single, well-defined ulcers.
A chancroid ulcer begins as a small, slightly discolored raised spot. Small bumps can grow quickly over the course of two to six days, resulting in pus-filled red blisters. When blisters rupture, they ooze milky fluid and blood and leave behind raw, very sensitive open lesions. It may be very uncomfortable to wear tight fitting clothes or urinate after a lesion breaks open. Most ulcers are nearly round and measure less than 0.5 inches (about 1.25 centimeters) in diameter, though they can grow as large as 2 inches (about 5 centimeters) across.
Besides the physical emergence of the ulcer, a person may experience related chancroid symptoms. If the lymph nodes in the groin become infected, they can swell and become tender. Occasionally, bacteria and pus buildup in a lymph node result in a hard, knot-like abscess that can be felt underneath the skin. A very large abscess may protrude through the skin and leak pus as well.
Other chancroid symptoms may develop if an infection is not treated in the initial stages. It is possible that an untreated lesion can leave a permanent scar on the penis or labia. If a man is uncircumcised and develops an ulcer on his foreskin, scarring can make it very difficult or impossible for the foreskin to retract properly in the future. Most people do not develop major, lasting chancroid symptoms when they seek care from knowledgeable physicians. A simple, two-week regimen of oral antibiotics and soothing topical ointments usually clears up chancroid symptoms entirely.