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(THE SUN) – There’s a nasty sexually transmitted disease that can cause your genitals to rot away – but you’ve probably never heard of it.
The super-rare bug, donovanosis, is usually found in tropical countries and some regions the Americans and Southern Africa.
Those unlucky enough to catch the bug will develop nasty ulcers you-know-where which, if left untreated, can continue to spread and eventually cause the flesh in the groin to rot away.
It can also lead to a whole host of other grim side effects including permanent genital damage and scarring, loss of skin color and irreversible genital swelling due to the scarring.
Pretty nasty, right?
The good news is, it’s incredibly rare.
Most cases are recorded in tropical countries or regions of the Americas, Southern Africa and Oceania.
But it has been found in the UK. According to data from Public Health England (PHE) there were a couple of hundred cases recorded in 2017.
As the disease is so rare, PHE doesn’t collect data on the infection on its own, instead, it is grouped in with to other rare sexually transmitted infections: chancroid and lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV).
Last year some 582 men and 80 women were diagnosed with the three conditions – that’s 662 in total.
The year before, 2016, there were 811 recorded cases and in 2015 there were 858.
But that’s still very low compared to more prevalent STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea.
According to the latest statistics, there were 44,676 new cases of gonorrhea in the UK in 2017 and 126,000 cases of chlamydia.
Like most sexually transmitted infections (STI), it is passed on through unprotected sex.
But simply coming into contact with a bleeding ulcer can cause the disease to spread – think oral sex or even just touching.
Symptoms can show one to 12 weeks after coming into contact with the bacteria.
Without treatment, the ulcers increase in size and will begin to smell foul and rot.
Around half of infected men and women also develop sores and small, red lumps in the anal area
The bumps gradually fade but as the disease spreads it starts to destroy tissues in the infected area.
Dr. Mark Lawton, of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, said: “We urge anyone who is concerned about their sexual health, or risks they have taken, to have a check-up and get tested by an expert at their local sexual health service – it is quick and easy to do.”
Thankfully, donovanosis can be treated with antibiotics if it’s caught early enough.
If the infection is not treated it can lead to permanent genital damage and scarring, loss of skin color and irreversible genital swelling due to the scarring.
So, what’s the best way to protect yourself? As always, the answer is: wear a condom.
Other forms of contraception, like the Pill, may help prevent unwanted pregnancies, but condoms are the best way to protect yourself from infection.
It’s also important you attend sexual health screenings at least once a year, or if you think you may have been exposed to an STI.