Chancroid: A Background 

A chancroid is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Haemophilus ducreyi,which attacks the tissue and produces an open sore on or near the external reproductive organs (i.e., the penis/testes, labia).  While once prevalent across the globe, recent efforts to improve diagnosis and treatment and increase social awareness about safe sexual practice has mostly eradicated it in developed countries. In 2000, the proportion of chancroid amoung genital ulcerative diseases decreased from 69% to 15%. However, the disease remains common in underdeveloped regions in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. A recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the presence of chancroid increases the risk of HIV transmission by 10%-50% in women and 50%-300% in men.2 Understanding transmission, symptoms, and how to prevent the spread of this highly contagious infection is imperative to improving sexual health.



Often, contagious fluid or blood from the ulcer can spread the bacteria during oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse. The bacteria can also be spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.


Symptoms often vary in males and females, but typically appear anytime from one day to several weeks after exposure.

Symptoms in Males

A small red bump may form on any area of the penis or scrotum, which may develop into an open sore within a day or two.

Symptoms in Females

The symptoms in females can vary greatly, with some females developing four or more red bumps on the labia, between the labia and anus, or on the thighs. After the bumps become ulcers, females may experience burning or painful urination/bowel movements.1

Symptoms in Males and Females

  • Ulcers can vary in size from around 1/8 to 2 inches across
  • Ulcers may bleed easily if touched
  • Ulcers may have a soft gray or yellowish-gray center with a defined periphery
  • Pain during sexual intercourse or urination
  • Swelling in the groin and/or lymph nodes which could lead to large collections of pus 1


Diagnosis and Treatment

A physician may take samples of the fluid that drains from the sore and analyze it for bacteria. They may also examine the groin lymph nodes for swelling pain, as this is a tell tale sign of infection. Currently, chancroid cannot be diagnosed through blood testing. Because chancroid is a bacterial infection, it can be successfully treated with a course of antibiotics.2 The CDC recommends azithromycin and ceftriaxone as they are single-dose therapies, which minimizes chance of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics will also decrease the chance of scarring as the ulcer heals. If an abscess has formed in the lymph nodes, a physician may drain it with a needle or through surgery to reduce the swelling and pain.3

After starting antibiotics, the person should be re-examined. If treatment is successful, ulcers will usuallyimprove symptomatically within 3 days, while the bacteria will usually clear up within 7 days after therapy. IMPORTANT: If no improvement is evident even after a course of antibiotics, a physician should administer an HIV test, because in persons with HIV, chancroid generally heals slowly and or not at all.2




  • Get tested for STIs and STDs frequently
  • Effectively communicate with a sexual partner about the importance of getting tested
  • Limit the number of sexual partners and practice safe oral, anal and vaginal sex through use of barrier protection (i.e., condoms, dental dams)
  • Alert recent sexual partners, regardless of whether they have experienced any symptoms, as any partner who has had sexual contact with an infected person in the 10 days prior to initial onset of symptoms is at risk3



While chancroid is highly contagious, it is easily curable. As always, it is incredibly important to use protection and treat the infection as quickly as possible, in order to minimize any negative long term effects (i.e., scarring).



  1. Macon, Brindles Lee. "Chancroid." Healthline. Healthline Media, 11 Dec. 2015. Web. 16 Apr. 2017.
  2. "Chancroid." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 04 June 2015. Web. 16 Apr. 2017.
  3. "Chancroid." Background, Pathophysiology, Epidemiology. N.p., 09 Feb. 2017. Web. 16 Apr. 2017.

Last Updated: 16 January 2018.