Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV)

Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is on the rise in Canada. If left untreated, LGV can lead to serious health problems.

Until recently, LGV was a rare infection in Canada. Prior to 2004, it was most often seen in tropical areas of Africa, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean. Recently, cases have been reported in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, and other European countries. In Canada, approximately 30 cases per year have been reported in the past couple of years. Most cases involved men having unprotected sex with men.

LGV is caused by variations of the bacteria that cause chlamydia, a common STI. However, the infections caused by LGV are much more invasive, cause different symptoms, and have different results if left untreated.

LGV is transmitted during unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex. LGV can be prevented by using condoms or other barrier methods during sex. It can be detected by a taking a swab from the infected area. A blood test may also be needed, as well as additional tests, since other STIs are often contracted at the same time.

LGV can be treated and cured by antibiotics. If the infected person has had sex within 60 days of having symptoms or being diagnosed, their partners should also be notified, tested, and treated.

Symptoms of LGV

Symptoms of LGV start to appear three to 30 days after infection. A painless sore or lump may appear where the bacteria entered the body (the vagina, penis, rectum, cervix, or mouth). Because the sore or lump can be painless, often internal, and clears up without treatment, you may not realize you are infected.

During the second phase you may experience flu-like symptoms, including:

  • mild fever
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • muscle and joint aches

Your lymph nodes may become swollen in the area close to where you were infected (the groin, anal region, or neck).

If you were infected through anal sex, you may have discharge of blood or pus from your anus. Constipation is also often present.

The health risks of LGV

Left untreated, about 10-20% of people with LGV will have  scarring and deformity in the genital, anal, or cervical area. This deformity cannot be reversed through medication and may require surgery to repair. If you have LGV, you are at an increased risk of contracting other STIs, as well as infections that are transmitted through the blood, such as hepatitis B and C.

Minimizing your risk

Following these suggestions can help you avoid contracting and transmitting LGV, as well as other STIs:

  • Learn about safer sex methods and practice them.
  • Make informed decisions. Talk to your partner(s) about their STI status and the use of protection.
  • Correctly and consistently using a condom and other barriers such as dental dams during sex reduces the risk of getting LGV and other STIs.
  • Get tested for STIs if you've had unprotected sex. Remember, you can be infected without having any noticeable symptoms.
  • If you are diagnosed and treated for LGV, be sure to follow your healthcare professional's treatment and follow-up recommendations. If infected, you should avoid unprotected sex until both you and your partner(s) have completed your antibiotic treatment and have been told that the infection is gone.
  • It is important that you or someone from your public health department notify any sexual partners who may have been put at risk of infection. They will also need to be tested and possibly treated.
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