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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.
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.
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.
|hepatitis B||8–22 weeks|
|hepatitis C||2–26 weeks|
|HPV||1 month–10 years (depending on type)|
|oral herpes||2–12 days|
|syphilis||3 weeks–20 years (depending on type)|
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.
|STD||Type||Incubation period||Test type||Retesting after treatment|
|chlamydia||bacterial||7–21 days||blood, swab, or urine tests||3 months|
|genital herpes||viral||2–12 days||ulcer, culture, or blood tests||none (lifelong virus)|
|gonorrhea||bacterial||1–14 days||blood, swab, or urine tests||3 months|
|hepatitis A||viral||15–50 days||specific antibody blood test||none (lifelong virus)|
|hepatitis B||viral||8–22 weeks||specific antibody blood test||none (lifelong virus)|
|hepatitis C||viral||2–26 weeks||specific antibody blood test||none (lifelong virus)|
|HIV||viral||2–4 weeks||specific antigen/antibody blood test||none (lifelong virus)|
|HPV||viral||1 month–10 years (depending on type)||pap smear||none (lifelong virus)|
|oral herpes||viral||2–12 days||ulcer, culture, or blood tests||none (lifelong virus)|
|syphilis||bacterial||3 weeks–20 years (depending on type)||blood tests|
|trichomoniasis||parasitic||5–28 days||NAAT 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.
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
It’s also recommended that people who have sex without a condom or other barrier method receive STD testing more frequently.
If you think you may have an STD, it’s important to stop engaging in sexual activity and seek treatment. Early detection and treatment of STDs plays an important role in stopping the transmission of STDs between yourself, your sexual partners, and their sexual partners. In some cases, it can even save your life.
Some of the potential risks of untreated STDs include:
- pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility in women, from
untreatedchlamydia and gonorrhea
- cervical cancer in women, from untreated HPV
- pregnancy and birth-related risks, from untreated bacterial STDs, HIV, and hepatitis B
- organ damage, dementia, paralysis, or death, from untreated syphilis
Taking care of your sexual health is important. Not everyone will voluntarily disclose their STD status to you. You can take control of your sexual health by asking questions, screening new sexual partners, and having open and honest discussions about sexually transmitted diseases.
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.