STD Tests – How Do They Work?

Although I have been regularly tested for STDs since I became sexually active, the last time I went in for testing, I suddenly realized I had no idea what was going on behind the scenes. So, as I was waiting for the doctor, I got to wondering, “How to STD tests work?”


Waiting on STD tests can be an extremely nerve wracking experience. This seems to be a universal feeling across the board from everyone who has tried to patiently wait weeks for test result. I began thinking about this collective stress over STDs, which generally should diminish if people’s results are good. Then, during my research, I learned about something foreboding. It’s called an “incubation period.”

This basically means that for a period of time, you may produce a false negative result even though you have contracted an STD or STI. This scared me because just when I thought I had a clean bill of health, I learned everyone’s body has a unique response to all types of infections and disease, which determines when they become identifiable through testing.

After a lot of research for my own peace of mind, I would like to share with you this brief summary of how STD tests really work and what kind of timeframe you are looking in order to get an accurate result.


I had only heard of Hep A, B and C, but as it turns out, there are actually 5 strands of viral Hepatitis which can all destroy your liver. People who have used needle drugs and/or engaged in unprotected sex with multiple partners are taking a major gamble with their health. In the US, Hep A, B and C are considered to be major public health threats to a large number of people. I recommend getting a Hepatitis virus panel test, which is a series of blood tests all performed at the same time to test for strands A, B and C.

The Average Elapsed Wait Time for Hepatitis Results Are:

A- 28 days

B- 120 days

C- 45 days

Luckily, most of us were vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B as infants. If you are not sure if you were vaccinated as a child, verify with your doctor that you have indeed been inoculated.

Although research and development is currently being conducted on creating a Hep C vaccine, there is not one available on the market quite yet. Let’s hope it comes out soon.


Firstly, before understanding the HIV/AIDS test, I had to learn about what antibodies are.  Antibodies are large Y-shaped infection fighting proteins produced by B-cells in your immune system. These B-cells identify bacterial or viral infections (aka antigens). Antibodies for infectious disease can be detected by taking a sample of blood, saliva or urine.

Here is where the frustrating incubation period comes into play. Because the test for HIV does not actually detect the virus itself, but rather the antibodies which try to attack the virus, it can take as long as 6 months after initial exposure for the HIV to be detected through testing. This is how false negatives could potentially lead to a false sense of security. The average estimated wait time for HIV results is 30 days.

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea & Syphilis

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis are all fairly easy to treat (when detected early on) and are not lifelong STDs. However, since many people do not have any noticeable symptoms, it can take up to 90 days after getting one of these STDs before any signs show up. In fact, Chlamydia is often known as the “silent infection” and can go on to cause permanent reproductive damage in females if left untreated. Gonorrhea can take 30 days to appear, while Syphilis can take up to 3 weeks just to reach Stage One. All three of these STDs can be diagnosed through the testing of blood, urine or a swab sample. Results for these tests typically take about one week and antibiotic treatments lasts around 2-3 weeks (as long as there is no re-exposure).

Genital Herpes

Genital Herpes is a lifelong and incurable disease that can be contracted through numerous ways (not just sexual activity.) The best way to get tested for Herpes is through a combination blood test/cell scraping. They can test the blood for infection fighting antibodies as well as checking the scraping under a microscope to see if there are any antigens present.

If you already know you have Herpes, your blood test will not distinguish between a dormant stage and a recurrence (old or new symptoms). This is where the scraping is helpful, because healthcare professional can determine whether or not the symptoms are present at that particular time or not. The average waiting time for Genital Herpes test results is between 4 and 12 days.

Be Safe and Get Tested Often

When I go in to get tested, I get tested for all of these things. I figure, while I’m there, I might as well. It can be a bit awkward and embarrassing to discuss your sexual history with a healthcare professional, but remember, they have heard it all. The more honest you are with them about your sexual activities, the more likely they are to test you for the appropriate potential problem(s). Or, if you want to play it safe, simply get tested often, for everything.

Even if you always use condoms, it is highly recommended for you to get tested at least once a year. This is essential because you can contract STDs from other activities such as unprotected oral sex. The sooner you get tested, the sooner you can find out the state of your health. As you can see, STD testing is a waiting game, so the sooner you get on that, the better.

About Kara

Kara is the Creative Director for the Condom Depot Learning Center, Condoms Fast Blog & the Spicy Gear Blog. She's an FSU alumni with a B.A. in Creative Writing and Studio Art & is as sex positive as they come. She be found swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, reading or playing the drums.

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