Lab tech handing a patient a sample cup for their STD test.

How Soon Can You Get Tested for an STD?

If you suspect that you may have recently contracted a sexually transmitted disease, you’d want to know as quickly as possible, right? It’s the natural response: How soon can you get tested for an STD? Technically, the answer is “any time,” but for better, more accurate results, the answer gets a little more nuanced.

Here’s why: Every STD or STI has what’s called an incubation period. Essentially, this is the time it takes for a disease to fully develop in your body. Once a disease or infection is fully “established,” it has a much better chance of showing up positively during STD testing. If you get tested before the disease has an opportunity to totally develop in your system, a test may not detect it. Thus, even if you’ve received a full-spectrum STD test and it comes out negative, you could still walk away with a disease or infection and never know it.

To avoid this, it’s best to know what incubation periods look like for different infections. That way, you can get tested during an optimal time and achieve more accurate results.

All Incubation Periods Are Different

To better understand how soon you can get tested for an STD, you must first know this: Every infection has its own incubation period; no two are the same. To make it easier, here’s a breakdown of sexually transmitted diseases/infections, their incubation periods, and the best time to get tested for each:

  • Chlamydia: For this STD — which is not only treatable, but also curable — the best time to get tested is 14 days after sexual activity involving an infected partner. How soon can you be tested for the STD? Technically, you can get an STD test as early as 48 hours after potential infection, but your results may not be as accurate. Ultimately, you’ll receive better results at the two-week mark, mainly because the infection is fully incubated by this time. If you test positive for chlamydia, treatment should begin immediately after you discover your results.
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV): HPV is among the most common STDs, and it’s very treatable — especially if you catch it during its incubation period, which ranges between two and eight months. This provides quite a wide range of time in which you can get tested for this disease, so be sure to take advantage of it.While several different HPV strains exist, only certain types have genital warts as a symptom; these are often harmless. If you have an HPV strain that presents warts, they will show up around two or three months after initial infection. Other virus strains can cause cervical cancer in women — an STD test can help identify which type you may have — but the initial incubation period for these strains are also between two and eight months.

    While there is no cure for the human papilloma virus, it’s preventable through a vaccine. Additionally, antiviral medication can help clear up or reduce associated warts.

  • Hepatitis B (or HBV): Hepatitis B is one of the more nefarious diseases on this list, as it is a serious infection of the liver; it’s contracted mainly through bodily fluids. Those who contract the virus will either experience the acute or chronic type.

    If you think you may have contracted HBV, symptoms typically show up between 90 and 120 days (though time frames can increase or decrease slightly depending on the person). This is considered the incubation period, so when you’re trying to discern how soon you can get tested for the STD, this time frame is optimal. Symptoms of the virus can last for weeks or months, and they include chronic fatigue, jaundice, fever, stomach discomfort, loss of appetite, and light-colored stools. The good news? You can get a vaccine that protects against the virus. While there is no cure for HBV, treatment options like antiviral medications do exist; these are typically part of a long-term regimen to help keep the disease dormant.

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): This is a life-long disease that attacks a person’s immune system; unfortunately, it has no cure. A person infected with HIV experiences several stages of the disease, beginning with an acute phase, which is followed by a latent phase and, ultimately, total immune deficiency (or AIDS). The acute phase represents the first several months after HIV is contracted. A person enters the latent phase after roughly three years, and it can last as long as a decade.

    If you suspect you may have contracted HIV, the best time to get tested for it is during the initial incubation period, which begins at the two-week mark. If and when symptoms arise, they can resemble the flu bug. While there is no cure for the virus, antiviral drugs can help a person live a longer, more quality life.

  • Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea is another completely curable STD on this list, especially if it’s caught during its incubation period. Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection; it’s contracted through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex. It has one of the fastest incubation periods, coming in around just two to five days. Still, it can take close to a month before symptoms show themselves. Conversely, many people present no symptoms, so it’s easy to pass the infection to others without knowing it. If and when symptoms do occur, they include painful urination and abnormal genital discharge. If gonorrhea is contracted orally, the infection may cause a sore throat.

    How soon can you get tested? As soon as possible. Once you receive positive test results, consult your doctor immediately about proper treatment, which typically involves antibiotics.

  • Syphilis: This infection actually mimics several other ailments, and so it can be hard to know whether you’ve contracted the disease. Thus, a test is warranted. The incubation period for syphilis is three weeks. Common symptoms begin with painful sores (either on the genitalia or the mouth), and they eventually develop into a rash, small bumps, or ulcers. Flu-like symptoms are also typical.Syphilis is characterized by two stages: primary and secondary. The former involves symptoms; the latter typically doesn’t because the disease is technically lying “dormant,” though it still very much exists in the body.

Now, you no longer have to wonder how soon you can get tested for an STD. Simply identify the signs and symptoms, and take advantage of the incubation period by getting tested when its at its peak so you receive the most accurate results (and, ultimately, so you can get better faster).