The little-known Donovanosis

All Woman

DONOVANOSIS is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that causes painless ulcers to appear on the genitals of its victims.

Dr Michelle Bailey, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, explained that though it is not popular, Donovanosis is prevalent in many parts of India, southern Africa, central Australia, and the Caribbean.

“It can present itself as one or more nodules under the skin that later break down to form ulcers, typically in the genital or groin regions. The ulcers enlarge, easily bleed, and have raised edges. For men it can be noted along the shaft, under the foreskin and around the anus. Women typically have lesions on the labia and occasionally on the cervix and vagina. If untreated, they can become quite extensive and can lead to scarring.”

Dr Bailey noted that the time it takes for a person to begin to show symptoms of the disease can vary widely — from about one week up to three months of contracting the disease.

“This wide range is multifactorial and may be due to delayed presentation of the patient to medical facilities, or denial,” she said.

Diagnosis of Donovanosis is sometimes difficult, she said, as patients may have genital ulcers with multiple causes. In order to identify the 'Donovan bodies', samples are taken from the ulcers and tested in the laboratory. Once confirmed, treatment can begin, usually with antibiotics.

“Sexual contacts of the person should be notified, screened and treated. In this case, sexual contacts of patients with Donovanosis within the last 60 days before onset of symptoms should also be treated,” Dr Bailey said.

It is also important, she noted, that counselling be provided to patients with suspected cases of Donovanosis. They should be encouraged to abstain from sex while awaiting the lab results and, if confirmed, to continue abstaining until both partners are treated, for at least a week.

People who are especially at risk of infection are commercial sex workers and those who have multiple sexual partners, or have unprotected sex with someone who does. Condom use is important in decreasing the risk of contracting this and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Donovanosis was named after an Irish medical officer, Charles Donovan, who discovered the bacteria that cause the disease in the early 20th century. These bacteria were later officially renamed Klebsiella granulomatis, but they are still loosely referred to as 'Donovan bodies'.

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