Most people are aware that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are extremely common. But did you know the CDC estimates that nearly 20 million new STD cases are identified each year, half of which are young people aged 15-24?
Although young adults make up a large portion of new infections, only 12% of this age group is screened for STDs. With almost half of all sexually active people contracting an STD by the age of 25, many people are putting their health at risk.
Apart from the negative stigma attached to STDs, many people fail to get tested as they show no symptoms of infection. As undiagnosed STDs can result in infertility or even cancer, it’s important to know what to look out for.
If you want to know how long does it take for an STD to show up, read on. We’ll take a look at the incubation periods of common STDs and offer tips on how to protect yourself.
What Is an STD?
An STD is a disease that is transmitted from one person to another through sexual contact. Oral, anal, and vaginal intercourse, as well as genital touching, can pass the infection on to your partner.
Regardless if you’re married or single, gay or straight, all sexually active people are vulnerable to STDs.
STD vs. STI: What’s the Difference?
The term STD has long been used to refer to any sexually transmitted disease or infection. But as not all infections become diseases, the term STI or sexually transmitted infection has come to replace STD in the medical community.
For example, most women who contract HPV (human papillomavirus) do not develop cervical cancer, the disease that is associated with the infection.
As STDs spread through the 1980s and 90s, the stigma associated with them brought shame to those testing positive. Because of this, many people now use STI interchangeably with STD.
Should I Get Tested?
If you’re sexually active, the short answer is yes. Symptoms of STDs are not always obvious and may be mistaken for other conditions. As these can be easily transmitted from person to person, it is important to screen for STDs to avoid spreading the infection.
While you may not need to be tested every year, below are some instances where you should book a screening:
- You are sexually active: Even if you’ve only had one partner and have always used protection, if you’re sexually active, it’s important to screen for STDs at least once.
- You have had or want to have unprotected sex: If you’re entering a long-term relationship and want to have unprotected sex, both parties should be screened for STDs beforehand.
- You engage in high-risk sexual activities: Having multiple partners or sex with an IV drug user or sex worker puts you at a higher risk of infection.
- You have been infected before: As it’s possible to become reinfected, it is recommended to get tested three months after treatment if you’re sexually active.
- You are showing symptoms: If you have any symptoms of an STD, speak to your doctor or healthcare professional as soon as possible (and abstain from sex until you have it checked out).
Symptoms and Incubation Period for Common STDs
The symptoms of each infection present at different times. To help you know what to look out for, here are the most common STDs, as well as their symptoms and incubation periods.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Considered the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US, there are over 40 different types of HPV that can infect the genital tract. Highly contagious, HPV can be transmitted sexually or through skin-to-skin contact.
While the immune system often defeats an HPV infection before symptoms develop, it may result in warts on the genitals or other areas of the body. HPV has also been linked to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.
Although the typical incubation period from infection to wart development is two to three months, symptoms can present anywhere from two weeks to eight months after contact in some cases.
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
These infections are often grouped together as they can be tested for at the same time. Both caused by different bacteria, infection rates have been steadily increasing over the past decade. More than 1.7 million cases of chlamydia and over 500,000 cases of gonorrhea were reported to the CDC in 2017.
Both chlamydia and gonorrhea can present without symptoms. If they do appear, the symptoms of both STDs can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Pain when urinating
- Abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina
- Itching or swelling around the genitals
- Persistent sore throat
The average incubation period for chlamydia is one to five days, while for gonorrhea it ranges from two days to a full month.
While there are five types of hepatitis, the most common are hepatitis A, B, and C. Highly contagious, hepatitis B is spread through infected blood, semen, or vaginal fluid, while hepatitis A spreads through anal-oral contact.
Dark urine, jaundice, and flu-like symptoms are common with all hepatitis varieties. Stomach pain, vomiting, and nausea may also be present with hepatitis A.
Hepatitis symptoms typically appear two to five weeks after infection.
Caused by a bacterial infection, syphilis is far more common in men, who account for around 90% of all cases. Easily curable if detected early, untreated syphilis can lead to blindness, brain damage, or in severe cases even death.
Like other STIs, symptoms can be hard to recognize. Should they develop, they will normally present in two stages: primary and secondary. Primary symptoms include a chancre or syphilis sore that may appear on the genitals or anus. Rashes on the hands or feet and flu-like symptoms appear during the secondary stage.
Primary symptoms normally develop three weeks to three months after infection.
While STDs are common, there are many things you can do to protect yourself from infection.
- Practice safe sex: While abstinence is the only surefire way to prevent STDs, practicing safe sex should protect sexually active people from infection.
- Get vaccinated: Vaccines are available for some STDs including HPV and hepatitis B.
- Mutual monogamy: If you’re in a long-term relationship, practicing mutual monogamy can help keep you both STD free.
STD rates across the US have been increasing steadily for the past ten years. As infection can lead to serious conditions, it’s important to take preventative measures to protect yourself.
So how long does it take for an STD to show up? Each infection has its own incubation period, so symptoms can appear anywhere from one day to several months after contact.
If you think you have been exposed to an STD, speak to your doctor or healthcare provider about getting tested as soon as possible.