Health experts warn extremely rare 'flesh-eating' STI is on the rise in the UK

·2-min read
Photo credit: Boy_Anupong - Getty Images
Photo credit: Boy_Anupong - Getty Images

An extremely rare sexually transmitted infection (STI) – that has been branded by health experts as "flesh eating" – is on the rise in the UK.

Donovanosis causes lesions to appear around the genital and groin area, which if left untreated can turn into painful, foul-smelling ulcers and cause the skin to decay. The disease is passed on through sexual contact, including oral and anal sex.

The first case of Donovanosis was reported back in 2018, and the numbers have been steadily growing ever since. According to Public Health England (PHE), London currently has the highest number of confirmed cases, and across the country there were a total of 114 confirmed cases between 2016 and 2020.

Although this figure may seem low, it's a worrying number given how rare and damaging the STI can be, particularly as we move into a post-pandemic world where casual sex is back on the cards after almost two years of being in lockdown.

"Though cases are extremely rare in the UK, they are on the rise. We know how quickly STI infections can spread so this causes concern for many people," explained Parvinder Sagoo, Superintendent Pharmacist and Clinician at SimplyMedsOnline, "This particular STI is worrying because if left untreated it can cause permanent genital damage, scarring and discolouration."

Despite the dangers of the infection, it's easy enough to protect yourself from contracting it. As the pharmacist points out: "The best way to protect yourself is to ensure you use condoms during any type of sex and avoid having sex with anyone who has visible ulcers around the genitals."

If you are concerned you've contracted Donovanosis, Sagoo says that "Symptoms will generally occur between 1 and 10 weeks of exposure to the bacteria." The expert added, "The main symptoms are red bumps and sores on the genitals or around the anus, sore or worn skin from ulcers, discolouration around genitalia and genital and groin tissue damage."

Photo credit: Luis Alvarez - Getty Images
Photo credit: Luis Alvarez - Getty Images

As with any STI, Sagoo recommends seeking help from a medical professional as soon as possible. "If you think you might have Donovanosis you should see your GP immediately so they can diagnose and prescribe you a course of antibiotics to treat the infection," the pharmacist stresses.

You can also visit your nearest sexual health clinic, where you often can turn up without an appointment. According to the NHS website, at a sexual health clinic "you'll often get test results quicker than from the GP."

If you feel uncomfortable sharing information about your sexual activity, the NHS highlights that "no information about your visit to the clinic will be shared with the GP or anyone else outside the clinic unless you ask for it to be."

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