Medically reviewed on September 30, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Table of contents
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are caused by the transfer of bacteria, viruses, or parasites during unprotected sex.
Every STD has a different incubation period—in other words, they vary in the amount of time it takes for symptoms to show. While the incubation period for some STDs is as short as a few days or weeks, other STDs can lie dormant for years.
A dormant sexually transmitted disease is a disease or infection that exists within the body without triggering STD symptoms. And while a dormant STD may not display visible signs or cause any discomfort, you can still spread it to your sexual partner or partners.
So, how long can an STD stay dormant without symptoms? Today, we’re answering this question by looking at the various STDs that can lie dormant, how long they can stay dormant, and how you can find out if you’re affected.
Several of the more than 20 types of STDs can lie dormant for months, years, or even decades. Dormant STDs and STIs highlight the importance of sexual health testing, as only a test can determine if an asymptomatic infection is present.
Here are four of the most common STDs that can stay dormant.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is one of the most well-known examples of an STD that can lie dormant.
The first stage of HIV is called an acute HIV infection, which can cause flu-like symptoms within 2 to 4 weeks of infection. Common STD symptoms include:
Because these symptoms are related to dozens of illnesses, people infected with HIV may not know they have the virus. At that point, HIV can progress to its second stage.
When HIV reaches its second stage—the stage known as an asymptomatic HIV infection, chronic HIV infection, or clinical latency—it continues to multiply within the body without showing symptoms. For some, this dormant stage can last for more than ten years.
uring this stage of HIV, the immune system may slowly weaken, but otherwise, the virus does not affect the body. The only way to detect HIV at this stage is to take an HIV test. Testing is important because if the virus remains undetected and untreated, it can progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
Chlamydia trachomatis can be exceptionally tricky to notice, as you’re more likely to be an asymptomatic carrier than a symptomatic carrier. Estimates claim that only 10% of men and 5–30% of women will develop chlamydia symptoms. As such, a chlamydia infection can lie dormant in the body for a year or more before becoming apparent.
Because people infected with chlamydia often show no symptoms, it’s sometimes called a “silent” infection. However, even when chlamydia is asymptomatic, it can spread during unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sexual contact. Taking a chlamydia test can inform you if you have chlamydia—and whether you’re asymptomatic or not.
Once again, STD testing is essential. Even if you don’t experience symptoms, untreated chlamydia can lead to health complications.
Syphilis has an unusual progression in that it can become dormant after a period of recognizable symptoms. There are four stages of syphilis:
You can use an at-home test to detect syphilis at any stage.
You may have asked: “What is the most common STD?” The answer to that is HPV. The Human papillomavirus (HPV) is another sexually transmitted disease that often has few or no symptoms, making it difficult to detect. However, certain strains of HPV have been known to cause genital warts. Luckily, 90% of HPV cases resolve themselves within 1–2 years.
However, for some people, HPV can lie dormant for years. According to a 2013 study in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, HPV may reactivate years or even decades after initial infection.
The HPV vaccine protects against 9 HPV strains that cause cervical cancer and other issues. Because there are more than 200 types of HPV, and the virus often goes undetected, more research is needed to determine a minimum and maximum dormancy period.
When it comes to UTI vs. STD, early testing and treatment is critical to prevent the progression of the diseases.
Dormant or not, STDs can spread from person to person and cause serious problems down the line. That’s why regular STD testing is essential to your health, and to the health of others—it’s the only way to know for sure if you have an STD.
A discreetly packaged at-home STD test from Everlywell can give you the peace of mind you’re looking for from the comfort and privacy of your own home. With tests for syphilis, chlamydia, HIV, and hepatitis C—as well as general STD tests for men and women, and a trich test—Everlywell makes it easy for you to take control of your sexual health and wellness.