Dormant Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Dr. Elizabeth Pryor answers the question, Could I possibly harbor an STD without realizing it?


I had unprotected sex before I met my husband. I'm worried because I know that some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can lie dormant for a long time before becoming active. Is it possible I could have an STD and not know it? Is there any way to detect dormant diseases in my system?


This a very common question and you should never be embarrassed to ask your doctor about your concerns. There are STDs that can lie dormant and you can continue to be asymptomatic for years. The most important STD to test for in this regard is HIV, which can lie dormant for many years. Anyone who has ever had unprotected sex should consider getting this blood test.

Another important test is RPR/VDRL, the test for syphilis. Cultures of the cervix can be used to test for chlamydia and gonorrhea, other diseases that can possibly lie dormant. Herpes is unlikely to lie dormant without your experiencing symptoms, but a test can be performed if there is a questionable lesion present.

Doctors also usually test for hepatitis B, which is a disease that can be sexually transmitted and may have a dormancy period. The most common dormant disease I see in my practice is human papilloma virus (HPV). This is a virus that causes venereal warts. However, the warts may be microscopic and therefore very difficult to detect -- that's why it's important to be tested for this STD. HPV affects the cervix, causing a precancerous condition called dysplasia. There are effective treatment methods for HPV, but early detection is important.

I know this is scary to think about, but it's important to ask your doctor about testing -- especially if you're considering pregnancy in the future.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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