How Long Does It Take for STD Symptoms to be detected?

If you’re sexually active, being knowledgeable about STDs is an important part of your sexual health.

If you’ve recently been exposed to an STD after having sex without a condom or other barrier method, you may have questions such as, how long does it take for an STD to show up on a test? Or, how long after exposure will STD symptoms begin to appear?

In this article, we’ll review the incubation periods for common STDs, the importance of early diagnosis and treatment, and recommendations for testing and retesting.

STD incubation periods

When you first contract an STD, your body needs time to recognize and produce antibodies to the disease. During this time period, known as the incubation period, you may not experience any symptoms.

If you test for an STD too early and the incubation period is not over yet, you may test negative for the disease even if you do have it.

In addition, even after the incubation period has passed, there are some STDs that can take months or years to produce symptoms.

Since most STD tests use antibodies (not symptoms) as a marker of disease status, having symptoms is not necessarily a reliable marker of infection. That’s why it’s important to test for any STDs you think you may have encountered — even if you don’t have symptoms.

How soon can you be tested?

Every STD has its own incubation period. For some STDs, the body begins to produce antibodies and symptoms in as little as a few days. For others, it can take weeks or months for symptoms to appear. Here are the ranges of incubation periods for some of the most common STDs.

STDIncubation period
chlamydia7–21 days
genital herpesTrusted Source2–12 days
gonorrhea1–14 days
hepatitis ATrusted Source15–50 days
hepatitis B8–22 weeks
hepatitis C2–26 weeks
HIV2–4 weeks
HPV1 month–10 years (depending on type)
oral herpes2–12 days
syphilis3 weeks–20 years (depending on type)
trichomoniasisTrusted Source5–28 days

STD testing chart

The expanded STD incubation and testing chart below includes test type and retesting recommendations. After the incubation period has passed, most STDs can be diagnosed via antibody-specific blood tests. Some STDs are also accompanied by lesions and can be diagnosed via swab, culture, or urine tests as well.

STDTypeIncubation periodTest typeRetesting after treatment
chlamydiabacterial7–21 daysblood, swab, or urine tests3 months
genital herpesviral2–12 daysulcer, culture, or blood testsnone (lifelong virus)
gonorrheabacterial1–14 daysblood, swab, or urine tests3 months
hepatitis Aviral15–50 daysspecific antibody blood testnone (lifelong virus)
hepatitis Bviral8–22 weeksspecific antibody blood testnone (lifelong virus)
hepatitis Cviral2–26 weeksspecific antibody blood testnone (lifelong virus)
HIVviral2–4 weeksspecific antigen/antibody blood testnone (lifelong virus)
HPVviral1 month–10 years (depending on type)pap smearnone (lifelong virus)
oral herpesviral2–12 daysulcer, culture, or blood testsnone (lifelong virus)
syphilisbacterial3 weeks–20 years (depending on type)blood tests4 weeksTrusted Source
trichomoniasisparasitic5–28 daysNAAT blood test

While retesting is recommended for bacterial STDs, some STDs are lifelong viral infections. In the case of a lifelong viral infection, a blood test will always detect the STD, even after treatment has been successful. Therefore, retesting would only be necessary if you wanted to reconfirm an original diagnosis.

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Can certain STDs lie dormant and not be detected?

In some cases, an STD may be asymptomatic (not show symptoms) because it’s latent, or lying dormant in your body. Latent STDs can cause someone to remain undiagnosed until symptoms begin to appear. This may put them at risk for long-term complications.

Chlamydia, hepatitis C, HIV, HSV (herpes simplex virus), and syphilis can all have periods of latency.

The best way to ensure that dormant STDs receive the proper diagnosis and treatment is regular STD screening. The CDCTrusted Source recommends that all sexually active adults with new or multiple sexual partners receive at least yearly testing for most STDs, especially chlamydia and gonorrhea.

It’s also recommended that people who have sex without a condom or other barrier method receive STD testing more frequently.

Key takeaways

Early diagnosis and treatment of STDs is important for taking care of your sexual health. While it’s important not to test too early for STDs, knowing the incubation period of the most common infections can help you determine when to seek medical help.

If you test positive for an STD, whether bacterial, viral, or parasitic, receiving treatment can help to reduce the risk of long-term health complications.

This article was first published by HEALTHLINE

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