What is LGV?

LGV is also known as ‘lymphogranuloma venereum’ – another impossible STI to pronounce! It’s a form of chlamydia that attacks the lymph nodes. It is very rarely seen in heterosexual (straight) men and women in the UK, but cases are being seen among gay and bisexual men in growing numbers.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can be complex and can vary depending on which part of the body is infected. This includes the genitals, anus and rectum (bottom), mouth and lymph nodes. Nearly all recent LGV infections seen in the UK have been in the rectum. Symptoms can be serious causing inflammation, infections in the lymph nodes, muscular pain, fever and overall ill-health.

There are commonly three stages of infection and symptoms:

  1. A small painless blister or sore appears where the infection first entered the body
  2. Inflamed and swollen lymph glands appear in the groin (area between your legs), armpit or neck. Anal infection can cause painful ulcers, discharge and bleeding. Fever may develop
  3. Left untreated, lasting damage can be caused to the infected area and general health. This could include scarring, swelling and deformity and may require surgery

Not everyone will experience symptoms and stage one symptoms can often go unnoticed. This means people with LGV can unknowingly pass the infection on to their sexual partners.

How do you catch it?

LGV bacteria need to enter the body to pass on the infection. This is most commonly done through the delicate, moist skin of the rectum (bottom), penis or vagina. You can get infected through the mouth and throat too, but this is rare.

Having anal sex without condoms, or other forms of anal penetration (such as inserting a hand into a partner’s rectum) are particularly risky. The bacteria can also be carried on objects such as sex toys, fingers, condoms or latex gloves.

How do you prevent it?

You can reduce your risk by using a new condom for all sexual encounters and anything used in penetrative sex like sex toys. Sex toys should also be cleaned thoroughly with hot water and antibacterial soap.

Because you can have LGV without knowing, an STI check-up is a good idea before a new relationship and/or you want to stop using condoms with your current partner.

How do you get tested?

To diagnose LGV, a sexual health professional will take a sample from your urethra (where you wee from), rectum, or other parts of the body, depending on symptoms and sexual practices.

If your sample is found to be positive for chlamydia, the bacteria will have to be checked at a special laboratory to confirm if the strain is LGV.

You can get a free, confidential LGV test at a sexual health clinic like those run by Virgin Care, a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, most contraception clinics, some GP surgeries and some young people’s services.

What treatment is available?

Most cases of LGV can be treated with antibiotics, as long as the infection is treated early enough. However, left untreated, LGV can cause lasting damage that may require surgery.

It is important that you do not have sex if you have LGV, or any other sexually transmitted infection, until follow-up tests confirm that you no longer have the infection.

If your test comes back as positive, it is important that you tell all of your sexual partners from the last six months so that they can also get tested and treated if necessary. If you prefer, your sexual health clinic can support you to get in contact with these people anonymously.

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