An online pharmacy is reporting that three cases have been diagnosed in the U.K., suggesting the rare STI may be spreading.

By Macaela Mackenzie
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Sexually transmitted infections are scary enough on their own-especially considering some of them are becoming antibiotic-resistant superbugs. But add the phrase "flesh-eating" to any STI and it becomes the stuff of real-life nightmares. According to a new report, a flesh-eating STI called donovanosis not only exists but apparently is spreading. (Related: MG Is the New Potential STI Superbug That's a Threat to Your Health)

Donovanosis, also called granuloma inguinale, is a scary STI that's super rare in most parts of the world-according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it's endemic to tropical and developing regions but rare in places like the United States. But according to a new report from an online pharmacy in the United Kingdom, the STI has been diagnosed for the first time in the U.K., indicating that the flesh-eating disease is spreading, the Mirror reports.

Here's what you need to know about the flesh-eating STI.

What is donovanosis?

Donovanosis isn't your run-of-the-mill STI. According to the CDC, the bacterial infection starts out similarly to other STIs with painless bumps. The CDC describes them as "beefy red" lesions but they can be difficult for a non-doctor to identify, says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale Medical School. (Here's a complete guide to more common below-the-belt bumps and skin conditions.)

"If you notice any ulcers in the genital regions, check in with your health care provider because there are several sexually transmitted diseases which can present that way," she says. "The best way to identify it is to examine cells from the infection under the microscope." (Since you probably can't do that in your home: One distinguishing factor of donovanosis sores that might tip you off is that they tend to bleed easily if touched.)

But the sores aren't the most concerning part of the STI. If left untreated, these ulcers spread, eating away at the skin. Yeah, go ahead and shudder.

From there, the bacteria that causes the infection can even spread to your bones and internal organs, the CDC reports. And the horror story doesn't stop here. The ulcers, which are open wounds, can more easily become infected with a secondary bacterial infection or STI-a nightmarish double whammy.

How is donovanosis treated?

Because granuloma inguinale can become such a serious issue, recognizing the symptoms-and then treating them STAT-is super important. But this is tricky, according to the CDC. (Regardless, this is how often you should be getting tested for STDs.)

Doctors typically use one of several common antibiotics (like doxycycline or azithromycin aka a "z-pack") to stop the sores from spreading and start shrinking them. But the CDC adds that "prolonged" use is typically needed and even so, the infection might come back after six months or even a year and a half later.

So, how worried should you be?

Despite the terrifying headlines about donovanosis or granuloma inguinale spreading, Dr. Minkin stresses that the STI is still super rare, pointing out the CDC has not reported any cases in the U.S. "It is more commonly seen in tropical countries but still is rare even there," she says. "I have never seen a case-I wouldn't be too worried."

Her advice? First of all, don't freak out. "As with preventing all STIs, always use condoms wherever and whenever you have sex with a new partner," she says. "If someone has obvious ulcers on their genital regions,"-any bumps or open sores-"don't have sex with them." And if you're traveling in a tropical country such as India, Papua New Guinea, or the Caribbean where the flesh-eating STI is more likely to occur, it can't hurt to be a little extra careful. (See: How to Have the Safest Possible Sex Every Time)

Now get back to enjoying your summer STI-free.

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