The STI Clinic News > How STIs Are Spread
# Saturday, January 6, 2018
Posted: Saturday, January 6, 2018 | Categories: General Sexual Health

How Quickly do STIs Spread?

Once upon a time, sex was something that (in theory) happened only between marital partners. Times have changed, but despite the benefits of changing social mores, sexual freedom has its downsides, one of which is the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections. There are a number of myths surrounding sexually transmitted infections, which makes it all the more important that people are aware of the facts about them. This is especially true with regard to the symptoms that often manifest as a result of the exposure to these infections, and the speed with which they can appear after they have been contracted.

How soon after exposure do symptoms of infection begin?

The great majority of sexually transmitted infections do not even cause any symptoms, but if you are experiencing some then it is a good idea to be aware of how soon they are likely to develop after you engage in sexual activity. The time between the beginning of the infection and the moment when symptoms begin is referred to as the incubation period.


Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and genital herpes

A chlamydia infection does not usually result in short term symptoms, although one to three weeks after infection some people do get a discharge from the penis or vagina. However, symptoms can develop months or even years after the infection was originally contracted. Gonorrhoea likewise rarely results in short term symptoms, but still remains infectious. From several days after exposure to around a month later, penis or vaginal discharge can develop. Another infection with the ability to lie dormant without manifesting any symptoms is genital herpes. Symptoms that do occur can range from some mild soreness, to many painful ulcers developing around the penis or vulva a few weeks after infection. These symptoms can also recur.

HIV, AIDS, scabies and genital warts

HIV often results in no symptoms at all for many years, and sometimes symptoms never appear. Flu-like symptoms can materialise a few weeks following exposure, which most people will shrug off as a common virus. These symptoms can include swollen glands, a blotchy red rash and a sore throat. These symptoms may reappear years later, accompanied by loss of weight, diarrhoea, tiredness and sweating, and can ultimately lead to the development of AIDS. A number of different conditions are associated with AIDS, including brain disorders like dementia, skin cancer and various unusual infections. AIDS is now a very rare diagnosis in the UK because of the success of treatment interventions.

Scabies can appear within one or two months of infection and results in intense skin itching – although itching can begin within just a couple of days for those who have suffered the condition on a previous occasion. Genital warts do not always materialise on those who have contracted the virus, but if they do, it happens within three months of infection.

Hepatitis B and pubic lice

Hepatitis B results in symptoms between four to six weeks after infection, including sickness, fever, jaundice, loss of appetite and a general feeling of ill health. The immune system usually kills the virus eventually, though others may still have it for the rest of their life without symptoms. In rare instances however, it can cause symptoms of liver disease.

Pubic lice infection results in intense itching within the pubic region, usually followed by the materialisation of red spots. The itching takes at least five days to begin, but in some cases it can take several weeks after infection to develop.

Are you more at risk of STIs if you already have an infection?

Some sexually transmitted infections put you at a higher risk of contracting HIV if you come into sexual contact with an infected person who is not on treatment.

Risky sexual behaviour, including having unprotected sex and changing sexual partners on a frequent basis, can also cause people to be exposed to a greater number of sexually transmitted infections. People who need STI testing are usually tested for various different sexually transmitted infections in case they have contracted more than one.


If you feel there is a chance that you have acquired a sexually transmitted infection then you should not wait for symptoms to appear, but immediately ask to be tested.


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