Donovanosis — a rare sexually transmitted infection (STI) that causes gruesome sores and ulcers for those who contract it — has been rising in reported cases over the past several years in the United Kingdom.
According to a report published on Oct. 22 that was outlined by Birmingham Mail, donovanosis — scientifically referred to as granuloma inguinale — “is a bacterial infection that causes bloody sores and ulcers on the genitals.”
The bacteria associated with the infection is called “klebsiella granulomatis.” While the bacteria doesn’t actually eat one’s flesh, donovanosis is being referred to as a “flesh-eating” STI due to the graphic and gory appearance it has on one’s skin via the sores it causes.
As with other STIs and STDs, donovanosis is transmitted via sexual contact. Notably, when it goes untreated, the sores caused by the infection can heighten the spread of HIV.
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According to Dr. Shree Datta of London’s MyHealthCare Clinic, “Figures suggest that donovanosis – which was previously thought to be restricted to places including India, Brazil and New Guinea – is becoming more common on [Western] shores.”
“As well as the awful symptoms, it’s important people are aware that it’s a known risk factor for the transmission of HIV,” the medical professional emphasized.
Regarding the U.K.’s stats, there were 19 reported cases of donovanosis in the country in 2016. By 2017, the number of recorded cases rose to 26. In 2018 there was a decrease down to 21 cases — but in 2019, the number shot up to 30 cases that year. As of the latest recording, the U.K. reported 18 cases of donovanosis in 2020.
If you’re suffering from the infection, “lumps” around your genitals and or anus may “increase in size and take on a beefy-red appearance.” While speaking with The Independent, Dr. Datta further detailed that one of the first indications that you’ve contracted donovanosis is developing “a nodule, sore, or open lesion in the genital area.” As noted, the sores may also turn into ulcers, which, if infected, “can result in pain and an unpleasant foul smell.”
Notably, the doctor highlighted that the infection is “more likely to affect men” at this time.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) reports that if you contract the infection, which is still a rare likelihood at this time, symptoms will most likely appear with 50 days or seven weeks. Forbes, however, reports that “after you get infected, symptoms tend to appear one to 12 weeks later.”
“Ultimately, when left untreated, the infection can slowly destroy your genital tissue and spread beyond your genitals to your thighs, your lower abdomen, and other parts of your body… this damage may be permanent because such tissue often does not grow back,” Forbes noted.
Regarding treatment, the British Medical Journal shared that your doctor will probably take a sample of your genital ulcer to confirm what you’re experiencing is in fact due to contracting donovanosis. If the test is positive, antibiotics will be prescribed to stop the growth of the klebsiella granulomatis bacteria and your sores will need time to heal. That said, the USA’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention has highlighted that one’s donovanosis sores can relapse six to 18 months after being treated with antibiotics.
Dr. Melinda Pettigrew, a professor of Epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health, shared that in her opinion, donovanosis is a “small scale concern right now.” However, its potential spread in the U.S. isn’t necessarily unlikely.
“Donovanosis is still extremely rare,” Pettigrew explained in conversation with USA TODAY. “But any increases in numbers are potentially concerning. Sexually transmitted infections are often undiagnosed and there may be missed infections so the true number could be slightly higher.”