What Is Donovanosis? Rare STD That Can Cause Genitals to Mutilate and 'Rot Away' Reported

A woman in the U.K. has contracted a rare STI. Getty Images

A woman in the U.K. has caught a rare STD which can cause the genitals to "rot away."

An unnamed woman aged between 15 to 25 in Stockport, England, was diagnosed with donovanosis some time in the past 12 months, according to a Freedom of Information request submitted by online pharmacy chemist-4-u.com. The organization contacted hospital trusts in the U.K. to inquire about STD rates across the country.

Also known as granuloma inguinale, donovanosis causes ulcers to appear on the genitals. In most cases, the ulcers start on the genitals and pubic area and are painless, according to the Centers for Disease and Control

The lesions generally develop a "beefy" red appearance, and can bleed easily when touched. If left untreated the ulcers can spread to the pelvis and into the organs in the abdomen, as well as the bones and mouth. The first symptoms generally appear one to 12 weeks after infection.

In 90 percent of cases, the lesions affect only the genitals but in around 6 percent the skin on the lips, gums, cheeks, palate and pharynx can occur according to the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV. If left untreated, the condition can cause "genital mutilation," according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Donovanosis is rare in the U.S., but endemic in some tropical and developing regions of the world, including the Caribbean, central Australia, southern Africa, India and Papua, New Guinea.

There are four types of donovanosis, the most common being ulcerogranulomatous, characterized by beefy, red ulcers that bleed easily when touched. In hypertrophic or verrucous cases, the ulcers have a raised, sometimes walnut-like appearance. Nectroic donovanosis, meanwhile, causes deep, tissue destruction which smells "foul", and Sclerotic where the lesions cause fibrous scar tissue.

As the STD causes bleeding, the risk of catching HIV is slightly raised and those who fall ill should be tested for the virus, the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV stated.

Reports suggested this was the first case of donovanosis in the U.K., but a 2006 study published in the Journal of Sexually Transmitted Infections stated it is "rarely reported" in the U.K., and most patients have returned from high-risk countries. This suggests this is not the first instance of the STD identified in the country.

Shamir Patel, a Chemist 4 U pharmacist, told the Liverpool Echo the condition is "very rare and nasty."

"Donovanosis itself can be treated with antibiotics, time is of the essence," he continued, as: "Any delay could cause the flesh around the genitals to literally rot away."