As the literature on Haemophilus ducreyi and clinical chancroid is reviewed, it becomes obvious that many significant findings have been forgotten over the years. As a result, from the time of Ducrey's original description of the organism in 1890 until about 1977, both clinical and laboratory experts in the United Kingdom believed that H. ducreyi infections were rare, generally acquired abroad, and almost impossible to confirm in the routine laboratory! In consequence it was a common view that it was not worth looking for H. ducreyi until all other possible causes of genital ulceration had been excluded. Moreover, the search for such an infection stopped as soon as any other cause for the patient's lesions had been found.
A decision to ignore this ‘rule’ in Sheffield led to our looking for H. ducreyi in specimens from an unselected series of patients with genital ulceration including a number with herpes genitalis infections. The surprise finding of H. ducreyi in circumstances suggesting that it was a secondary invader made us re-examine the whole question of H. ducreyi infections and chancroid and wonder if the same organism can act as a primary pathogen and as a secondary invader. An account of the media and methods we used and of the characteristics of the organism is presented. In an attempt to find out more about the characteristic coherent colonies of H. ducreyi we studied them with the scanning electron microscope. It is clear that the whole subject of H. ducreyi infections has been neglected in the United Kingdom, but we believe that interest has now been aroused and progress will surely follow. Some areas for further investigation are suggested.