What is Donovanosis? US at Risk of 'Flesh-Eating' Sexually Transmitted Infection?

A rare 'flesh-eating' sexually transmitted infection (STI) causing 'beefy-red' sores and rotting skin on the genitals, is on the rise in England, according to a new report. Experts have expressed concerns over this infection named as 'donovanosis'.

What is Donovanosis?

Donovanosis mostly spreads through vaginal or anal sex. Very rarely, it spreads during oral sex, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Granuloma Inguinale (Donovanosis) is a bacterial infection that causes sores on the genitals. It is caused by a bacteria named Klebsiella granulomatis.

Donovanosis has earned a fearsome reputation, after being dubbed the 'flesh-eating disease'. The disease occurs rarely in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), donovanosis, is most common in parts of India, Papua New Guinea, central Australia and the Caribbean and southern Africa.

What are the Symptoms of Donovanosis?

According to Healthline.com, donovanosis, leads to thick sores on the genital region and can progressively damage body tissue. The main symptoms are painless genital ulcers that bleed easily when touched.

About 1 in 10 people may also have ulcers in the area around the genitals or the anus, and even the mouth, reported WebMD. Though typically painless at first, these sores often bleed easily and can worsen without prompt treatment.

Dr Shree Datta, from London's MyHealthCare Clinic told The Independent, "The early signs are lumps around the genitals or anus that increase in size and take on a beefy-red appearance.

"These can develop into ulcers that, without treatment, can become infected, which can result in pain and an unpleasant smell. It's more likely to affect men."

A British physician in a TikTok video listed its gory symptoms and described it as "terrifying".

Donavanosis is a disease caused by the bacterium Klebsiella granulomatis that causes ulcers around genitals Twitter

An apparent rise in the number of cases of donovanosis has stirred alarm on social media. But in reality, case numbers are low. Data from Public Health England shows infections in the UK swelled from 19 in 2016 to 26 in 2017, 21 in 2018 to 30 in 2019.

US at Risk of This Terrifying Sexually Transmitted Bacterial Infection?

There are about 100 cases reported each year in the U.S., according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Most of these cases are people who recently traveled to or are from places where donovanosis is common, though.

Dr. Melinda Pettigrew, a professor of Epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health, said she sees donovanosis as a "small scale concern right now," but notes spread in the U.S. is not out of the question.

"Donovanosis is still extremely rare," Pettigrew told USA Today. "But any increases in numbers are potentially concerning. Sexually transmitted infections are often undiagnosed and there may be missed infections so the true number could be slightly higher."

Pettigrew said that "theoretically," the bacteria klebsiella granulomatis could increase in the U.S. since the risk factors (for) unprotected sex are on the rise for other bacterial STIs.

According to some experts, "safer sex practices—especially condom use—will help mitigate the risk of this infection."

Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York says that all the attention on donovanosis right now is just a good reminder to practice safe sex, reported Prevention.com. "This should be a wakeup call for people to have appropriate behavior and take appropriate precautions such as condom use," he says.