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'Awful' infection rising in England that causes 'irreversible' symptoms warns doctor

A doctor has spoken out about an emerging bacterial infection in England. Cases of Donovanosis - a bacterial infection transmitted by contact that can cause skin to be destroyed, unless treated - are rising. The STI, also known as klebsiella granulomatis, creates lesions around the groin and genital regions which can turn into foul-smelling ulcers if infected.

It's more normally found in tropical parts of the world such as Southern Africa and the Americas.

But the latest statistics from Public Health England (PHE) show that cases were on the rise before the outbreak of COVID-19.

Total reported instances across the country swelled from 19 in 2016 to 30 in 2019.

Even during the pandemic and related lockdowns, there were still 18 cases in England.

Donovanosis STI causes irreversible swelling

© Getty Images Donovanosis STI causes irreversible swelling

Doctor Shree Datta, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the leading London MyHealthcare Clinic, said: "These figures suggest that Donovanosis - which was previously thought to be restricted to places including India, Brazil and New Guinea - is becoming more common on these 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 early signs are lumps around the genitals or anus that increase in size and take on a beefy-red appearance.

"These can develop into ulcers that, without treatment, can become infected, which can result in pain and an unpleasant smell. It's more likely to affect men."

According to doctor Datta, Donovanosis symptoms normally emerge within a month of sexual contact with an infected person, although a small number of people can become infected just by skin-to-skin contact.

She added: "Using contraception significantly reduces the risk of contracting the disease, while it can be treated with antibiotics.

Lumps around the genitals are an early sign

© Getty Images Lumps around the genitals are an early sign

"But severe cases can lead to permanent scarring and damage to the genitals, as well as discolouration and even irreversible swelling, so this is definitely one to watch."

PHE data shows that London had the highest number of cases, with 42 recorded in both males and females over the past five years. That included a spike of 19 cases in 2019.

Meanwhile, the North West was second in the rankings with 21 cases over the same time period, followed by Yorkshire and Humber (14) and the South East (11).

The overall figure for cases across England from 2016-2020 was 114 - in contrast to more than a million cases of Chlamydia and 266,000 of Gonorrhoea.

In 2018, a Freedom of Information request revealed that a female between the ages of 15 and 25 from Southport, Merseyside, had contracted Donovanosis within the previous 12 months.

How to treat Donovanosis

Multiple antimicrobial regimens have been effective; however, as the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note, only a limited number of controlled trials have been published.

"Treatment has been reported to halt progression of lesions, and healing typically proceeds inward from the ulcer margins," explains the CDC.

The health body continues: "Prolonged therapy is usually required to permit granulation and reepithelialization of the ulcers.

"Relapse can occur six to 18 months after apparently effective therapy."

It is treated with a longer (three-week) course of antibiotics. 

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