Genital ulcers - 2012 review from Am Fam Physician

Here is an excerpt from a review article in the official AAFP journal American Family Physician:

Causes of genital ulcers

Herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection and syphilis are the most common causes of genital ulcers in the U.S.

Other infectious causes include:

- chancroid
- lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV)
- granuloma inguinale (donovanosis)
- secondary bacterial infections
- fungi

Noninfectious etiologies of genital ulcers include:

- sexual trauma
- psoriasis
- Behçet syndrome
- fixed drug eruptions

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The following tests should be considered in all patients:

- serologic tests for syphilis and darkfield microscopy or direct fluorescent antibody testing for Treponema pallidum
- culture or polymerase chain reaction test for herpes simplex virus (HSV)
- culture for Haemophilus ducreyi in settings with a high prevalence of chancroid

No pathogen is identified in up to 25% of patients with genital ulcers.


The first episode of herpes simplex virus infection is usually treated with 7-10 days of oral acyclovir (5 days for recurrent episodes). Famciclovir and valacyclovir are alternative therapies.

One dose of intramuscular penicillin G benzathine is recommended to treat genital ulcers caused by primary syphilis.

Treatment options for chancroid include a single dose of intramuscular ceftriaxone or oral azithromycin, ciprofloxacin, or erythromycin.

Lymphogranuloma venereum and donovanosis are treated with 21 days of oral doxycycline.

Treatment of noninfectious causes of genital ulcers varies by etiology, of course. Topical wound care for ulcers caused by sexual trauma. Subcutaneous pegylated interferon alfa-2a is considered for ulcers caused by Behçet syndrome.


Diagnosis and management of genital ulcers. Roett MA, Mayor MT, Uduhiri KA. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Feb 1;85(3):254-62.

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