Common STDs and their symptoms

Before determining whether you are contracted an STD, you should understand the symptoms of the most common types of STDs.

1. Syphilis

Syphilis has several different stages, each with different symptoms.

  • Stage 1 (Primary):

Around 3-4 weeks after infection, the patient begins to exhibit painless sores on their genital areas. The sores are often visible for male patients, making them easier to be noticed, but they may be easy missed for women whose lesions develop inside the vagina.


  • Stage 2 (Secondary):

Syphilis sores may heal by themselves even without treatment. However, about 6-8 weeks after the sores have healed, the patient may develop non-itchy and painless skin rash, mouth ulcers, enlarged lymph nodes, fever or flu-like symptoms. This is because the syphilis bacteria has already entered the bloodstream through the lymph nodes and have spread throughout the body. These symptoms may also subside after several weeks, but this is not a true recovery - the disease has simply entered the latent stage.

Patients who are unfamiliar with syphilis may mistake these symptoms for the common cold or flu, missing the best opportunity for treatment.


  • Latent Stage:

The patient exhibits no visible symptoms during the latent stage. A blood test is required for screening and diagnosis of syphilis.


  • Late Syphilis:

Without proper treatment, signs of late syphilis may appear years or decades after the initial infection. In this stage, syphilis affects the patient's skin, epidermis, bone and muscles, or even blood vessels and the nervous system. Delaying treatment at this stage can lead to blindness, disability and mental illness.

2. Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is transmitted when herpes lesions come into contact with mucous membrane or broken skin, most commonly through sexual contact, with an incubation period of around 2 to 5 days. The patient develops symptoms such as fever, muscle pain, frequent urination with a burning sensation, and swelling of lymph nodes. In addition, the infected area will develop itches and small vesicles, which will slowly grow and rupture into painful ulcers.


3. Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea typically begins to exhibit symptoms within around 14 days after infection. Both male and female patients will develop frequent urination with a burning sensation. Male patients will generally experience a yellowish, purulent discharge from the urethra, though a small percentage of infected men experience no symptom at all. Symptoms are harder to detect among female patients; only a small percentage of infected women experience purulent vaginal discharge, with the majority of patients having no obvious symptoms. Blood or urine tests are recommended for suspected gonorrhoea patients.


4. Chlamydia

Incubation of chlamydia ranges from around 7 to 21 days.  Symptoms in men include difficulty in urination, and white or clear discharge from the penis. Women may experience vaginal itching, increased vaginal discharge, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty in urination and abnormal vaginal bleeding, etc.



Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The virus attacks the white blood cells which are an important part of the body's immune system, resulting in the body becoming vulnerable to bacteria, viruses and malignant tumors that would not affect a healthy person. There is as yet no cure for AIDS. HIV is mainly found in blood, semen and vaginal secretion. Saliva may also contain trace amounts of HIV. In addition to sexual intercourse, HIV may also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding, by sharing needles with a carrier, or by transfusing HIV-contaminated blood or blood products.

Early detection and treatment is the key

Different types of STDs have different symptoms, but some STDs do not exhibit obvious symptoms and in some cases they can remain latent for decades. Regular check-ups can help detect the presence of STDs, reduce its health impact and the potential for complications, as well as preventing transmission to others, such as between sexual partners or from mother to child.

Most STDs can be diagnosed by simple secretion, blood or cell sample tests. If you suspect that you may have become infected, seek diagnosis as soon as possible regardless of any visible symptoms. In addition, the sexual partner of a STD patient should also receive testing to avoid repeated infection.

STD tests include:

Venereal disease research laboratory (VDRL) test

  • Latent syphilis may exhibit no clinical symptom
  • VDRL test is the only way to detect latent syphilis
  • Up to around 95% accuracy

HSV II antibody

  • Genital herpes is most commonly caused by Herpes Simplex Type II (HSV II) virus transmitted through sexual contact

HIV-I and -II antibody and p24 antigen test

  • Up to around 99.99% accuracy
  • The window period is shortened to just around 2 weeks which minimizes delay in treatment

Urine test

  • Test for gonorrhoeae DNA and chlamydia DNA in urine specimens
  • A small amount of bacteria is required to arrive at a diagnosis. Whether it is a blood test or a urine test, the doctor will go over the report with you, explain the results in detail and provide you with a treatment plan


Safe sex remains the most effective way to prevent STDs. Condom should be properly used during each sexual intercourse, and those who are sexually active in particular should receive regular check-ups.

Last Updated: May 2019
Please note that all medical health articles featured on our website have been reviewed by Quality Healthcare doctors. The articles are for general information only and are not medical opinions nor should the contents be used to replace the need for personal consultation with a qualified health professional on the reader’s medical condition.