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Donovanosis: Why This Is Called A 'Flesh Eating' Sexually Transmitted Infection

Donovanosis Why This Is Called A Flesh Eating Sexually Transmitted Infection
Date Posted: Sunday, October 24th, 2021

Typically, you want to keep anything labeled as “flesh-eating” as far away from your genitals as possible. That’s true whether you are dealing with flesh-eating piranhas, flesh-eating politicians, flesh-eating underwear, or the “flesh-eating” sexually transmitted infection (STI) known as donovanosis. The word “donovanosis” may look like an oasis created by Donovan. But instead donovanosis is caused by a bacteria named Klebsiella granulomatis that can progressively destroy your genital tissue.

Do we have your attention yet? Well, donovanosis, otherwise known as granuloma inguinale, has been getting some attention in the U.K. of late. That’s because Robbie Purves writing for Birmingham Live quoted a doctor from London as saying, “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.” Now “more common” is a subjective and relative term. If you got smacked in the face with some broccoli last Thursday, you could say that broccoli attacks were more common last week than prior weeks.

A look at data from Public Health England shows that there were 30 reported cases of donovanosis in the U.K. in 2019. That was higher than the 19 in 2016, the 26 in 2017, and the 21 in 2018. Last year, in 2020, the number of cases did dip to 18. But presumably, during the Covid-19 pandemic, people weren’t sharing their genitals with each other quite as much.

Of course, the Public Health England numbers don’t suggest that donovanosis is spreading like wildfire in the U.K. The disease is still relatively rare over there and in the U.S., certainly less common than it is in particular tropical areas, such as India, Guyana, New Guinea, central Australia, and southern Africa, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, it’s so uncommon that three years ago a single case of a women in Southport, U.K., getting donovanosis made headlines, which I covered for Forbes at the time. So you may not have to put “hide from flesh-eating STI” on your list of main things to do today along with things such as “take out trash” and “purchase croissants.”

It is, though, yet another reason to practice safe sex. Since it is considered an STI, you typically have to have sex to get donovanosis. The New South Wales government does say that a small proportion of cases have occurred through skin-to-skin nonsexual contact. But usually, it’s transmitted via having vaginal, anal, or possibly oral sex with someone infected with Klebsiella granulomatis. This bacteria was formerly known as Calymmatobacterium granulomatis. So it shouldn’t be comforting for someone to tell you after sex that he or she was infected with Calymmatobacterium granulomatis rather than Klebsiella granulomatis.

After you get infected, symptoms tend to appear one to 12 weeks later. The classic symptoms of donovanosis are painless ulcers in your genital region that progressively worsen and spread. People often call these lesions “beefy red” since blood vessels course through them and bleeding may occur. So being described as “beefcake” is one thing. Being described as having “beefy red lesions” is something totally different. If someone told you that his or her genitals have lost their normal color, first, remind the person that it’s not appropriate to say that while giving a Power Point presentation at work. Secondly, tell the person to see a doctor because it may be a sign of donovanosis.

These lesions first appear as small, beefy-red bumps on your genitals or around the anus, depending on what body parts were involved in the deed. Over time, the skin on these bumps wear away, transforming them into “raised, beefy-red, velvety nodules called granulation tissue,” in the words of the National Library of Medicine (NLM). These nodules can bleed easily. There are photos of such lesions on the Internet but:

Ultimately, when left untreated, the infection can slowly destroy your genital tissue and spread beyond your genitals to your thighs, your lower abdomen, and other parts of your body. Unless you happen to be Wolverine, this damage may be permanent because such tissue often does not grow back.

The prospect of permanent genital damage should be motivation enough to see a doctor, get diagnosed, and get started on antibiotics as soon as possible. Don’t assume that you have donovanosis just because you have beefy red lesions or your genitals are being destroyed. Other possible causes of such a situation include necrotizing fasciitis, chancroid, lymphogranuloma venereum, anogenital cutaneous amebiasis, cancer, or a belt sander.

In order to diagnose donovanosis, a doctor must scrape the base of your ulcers to obtain a sample of the tissue, stain the tissue sample with Giemsa or Wright’s stain, and then observe the sample under a microscope, looking for so-called Donovan bodies. Donovan bodies are the presence of numerous bacteria inside macrophages. Macrophages are cells that exist throughout your body and chomp up invaders like bacteria similar to how Pac Man will engulf dots and fruit. So Donovan bodies are a sign that you have donovanosis and should begin antibiotic treatment immediately.

Treatment isn’t like an Infinity Gauntlet snap, though. It can take a while. It can be a three-week course of antibiotics such as azithromycin, doxycycline, ciprofloxacin, erythromycin, or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, according to the NLM. Treatment may last even longer if the sores haven’t yet completely healed after three weeks.

Of course, it is better to avoid getting donovanosis in the first place. When people tell you to take risks in life, don’t lead with your genitals. Get to know someone before you have sex with him or her. You want to know his or her name and STI history before jumping in the sack. It’s better to be straightforward when asking questions. Don’t be so subtle that misunderstandings may occur. For example, it may be too indirect to say during dinner, “mmm, this roast beef is delicious. Have you had such roast beef before? How about anything else beefy?” Mystery can be nice for romance but safety and trust are even better. Once you decide to have sex, make sure you use barrier protection such as condoms. And remember such barrier protection is not like a fashion accessory. It should fit properly and stay on throughout the sexual contact.

It’s not completely clear yet whether donovanosis is indeed rising in the U.K. While the year 2019 did see a bit of a bump, so to speak, 2020 was too unusual to decipher any trends or lack thereof. This “flesh-eating” STI remains rather rare in the U.K. as well as in the U.S., which sees about 100 reported cases each year, according to the the NLM. So for now, be aware of donovanosis, but don’t panic and start hoarding toilet paper. After all, it’s important to distinguish isolated cases from outbreaks or epidemics. At the same time, you don’t want to get caught with your pants down.

Source: Bruce Y. Lee/Forbes.com

Date Posted: Sunday, October 24th, 2021 , Total Page Views: 881

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