Dear Dr. Kate,
How soon after sexual relations would an STD test register a newly transmitted virus?
Excellent question – depends on the virus or bacteria. Gonorrhea can show up the fastest, in about 4 days, followed by chlamydia (in 7 days) and syphilis (about 3 weeks), though all of these tests may take as long as a month to detect infection. HIV tests turn positive most often within 2 to 8 weeks (at about 3 weeks on average); since it may take longer to show up, the recommendation is to take one test at about 3 weeks, then test again about 3 months after exposure. HPV, on the other hand, can take months and possibly years before it shows up on testing or makes your pap smear abnormal. Herpes testing is generally only done if you have symptoms, which generally appear in 2 to 3 weeks. So bottom line – if you have sex without a condom, call your gyno the next morning for an appointment in about 3 weeks to first test for STDs. And if all comes out negative, test for HIV again in 3 months to be sure. Then remember how scary the waiting-for-results feels the next time you consider doing it without a condom!
— Dr. Kate
Dr. Kate is an OB/GYN at one of the largest teaching hospitals in New York City. She also lectures nationally on women’s health issues and conducts research on reproductive health. She generously shares her medical wisdom with EM & LO readers every few weeks. Check out more of her advice and ask her a question at Gynotalk.com.