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Cases of a 'flesh-eating' STI rise in the UK, should US be worried?

The disease is rare in the U.S. however, health officials say about 100 cases are reported per year.
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interior shot of a doctor’s waiting room

Cases of a sexually transmitted infection, donovanosis, known for causing "beefy red" skin abrasions, are rising in the United Kingdom, according to a report from Birmingham Mail.

While cases are rare compared to other STIs, or STDs, cases of donovanosis have been slowly rising since 2016, USA Today says. There were only 30 reported cases of donovanosis in the UK in 2019, which is 11 more cases than what was reported in 2016, according to the UK news outlet, The Sun.

So what is donovanosis exactly?

Granuloma inguinale, or donovanosis, is a genital ulcerative disease caused by the bacterium Klebsiella granulomatis. While that sounds foreign, what's really important to know is the STI is generally transmitted through unprotected sex, but can also be spread through non-sexual skin-to-skin contact.

The STI emerges as red skin lesions that appear beefy red in appearance, and have the potential to bleed, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Health officials say, clinically, the disease is characterized as painless, slowly progressive ulcerative lesions on the genitals. However, it can spread, usually one to 12 weeks after infection.

The CDC says while it's rare in the U.S., donovanosis cases have been reported sporadically in India, South Africa, and South America.

Donovanosis does not actually eat the flesh, but it's been called "flesh-eating" due to what it does to the skin when infection occurs. 

Should the U.S. be weary of this STI?

The disease occurs rarely in the U.S., the CDC says, however other STIs and STDs are on the rise in the U.S., according to Dr. Melinda Pettigrew, a professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health said to USA Today.

About 100 cases of donovanosis are reported per year in the U.S., Medline Plus reports. However, it's most common among people who have traveled to or from places where the disease is common.

Back in 2018, a woman in the U.K. claimed to have contracted the rare STI and the report made its rounds on Facebook, bringing awareness to the rare infectious disease.

"Donovanosis itself can be treated with antibiotics, time is of the essence," said Shamir Patel, a Chemist 4 U pharmacist speaking with the Liverpool Echo. He added: "Any delay could cause the flesh around the genitals to literally rot away."

The CDC lists various antibiotics on its website, though warns relapse can occur six to 18 months after what appears to be an effective therapy.