Chancroid is an infection of the genitals that is caused by the bacterium Haemophilus ducreyi. Chancroid is a sexually transmitted disease, which means that it is spread from person to person almost always by sexual contact. However, there have been a few cases in which healthcare providers have become infected through contact with infected patients.
Common locations for chancroid sores (ulcers) in men are the shaft or head of the penis, foreskin, the groove behind the head of the penis, the opening of the penis, and the scrotum. In women, common locations are the labia majora (outer lips), labia minora (inner lips), perianal area (area around the anal opening), and inner thighs. It is rare for the ulcer(s) to be on the vaginal walls or cervix. In about 50% of the patients with chancroid, the infection spreads to either or both of the lymph nodes in the groin.
Chancroid is most commonly found in developing and third world countries. In the United States, the most common cause of genital ulcers is genital herpes, followed by syphilis, and then chancroid. As of 1997, there were fewer than 1,500 cases of chancroid in the United States per year and it occurred primarily in African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans. There are occasional localized outbreaks of chancroid in the United States. In addition, the practice of exchanging sex for drugs has lead to a link between crack cocaine use and chancroid.
Even though the incidence of chancroid in the United States decreased in the 1990s, there is an alarming connection between chancroid and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. HIV causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and is easily spread from person to person through chancroid ulcers. Uncircumcised men with chancroid ulcers have a 48% risk of acquiring HIV from sexual contact. Women with chancroid ulcers are also at a greater risk of being infected with HIV during sexual contact. Genital ulcers seem to act as doorways for HIV to enter and exit.
Belinda Rowland PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,