There are several variables you’ll want to consider before taking that test, and perhaps none more important than what’s known as the STD incubation period (but more on that later). If you’ve been exposed to an STD by way of sexual acts with an infected individual or in some other way, you will want to seek out a reputable STD testing service and get tested. There’s simply no way around that. But, believe it or not, you don’t want to get tested too quickly after potential exposure. Let’s start with the basics.
How Soon Can You Get Tested For An STD?
First off, we’re glad you’re asking the right questions. Getting tested for STDs is essential in keeping yourself and your sexual partner(s) protected and the earlier you can confirm a positive test, the sooner you can begin treatment. An STD isn’t something you can just “wait out” or “let run its course” or what have you.
But, as anxious as you might be to get results, you will have to wait some time before testing to ensure your test is accurate. If you test too early (the morning after, for instance) it’s likely that your body hasn’t yet recognized the infection and, as a result, it probably won’t be showing up on any test results just yet.
So how soon can you get tested for an STD?
Many people believe their best course of action is to simply wait until signs appear, then take a test to confirm their suspicion. And if signs never arise, then you’re good, right?
Waiting until after the STD incubation period or until you feel lousy is a risky approach for several reasons. Which leads us to our next oft-asked inquiry:
How Soon do STD Symptoms Appear?
We’ll get into this in a minute, but before we do, there’s something you’ll want to keep in mind. Though many STDs display signs similar to one another, it’s important to remember that all STDs are different. And as such, there’s no blanket answer for how soon STD symptoms appear.
Further complicating this notion is the fact that many STDs are asymptomatic. Even STDs that are known to cause noticeable STD symptoms, may not always do so. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. And even if you’re lucky enough to avoid signs, make no mistake, you are still infected and likely contagious until proper treatment is administered.
In short, waiting until signs are apparent before you get tested for an STD is probably not the best course of action either. If you suspect you’ve been exposed, testing sooner than later is always better. But how soon exactly? For this, you’ll want to consider the STD incubation period.
What is an STD Incubation Period?
We’re glad you asked. In a nutshell, an STD incubation period is the time it takes for your body to recognize an STD and develop the appropriate antibodies to battle it. In no case is this process instantaneous. For some STDs, this could be a couple of days and others might take a few weeks or longer. If you test too soon after exposure–before your body has begun to fight the infection–you may receive a false negative result. This doesn’t mean you have the disease, and it doesn’t mean you don’t have the disease; only that you tested too early before the STD incubation period had a chance to pass. To get a better understanding of the best time(s) to test, consult our list of STDs and their respective incubation periods below.
STD Incubation Periods
Below you’ll find a list of various common STDs as well as their STD incubation period (i.e. when you should consider testing). Remember, many of these STDs may be generally asymptomatic, so waiting until signs arise isn’t always your best course of defense.
HIV Incubation Period
HIV is a serious and potentially deadly condition for which there is no cure, so waiting until after the STD incubation period to receive testing is important. If you suspect you’ve been exposed to this virus, you’ll want to confirm by way of a test as soon as you can.so that you can start a prescribed treatment regimen. The initial HIV incubation period begins at right around the two-week mark. At this point, you may notice flu-like HIV symptoms (or you may feel completely fine). HIV is not the “death sentence” it was one rumored to be. People regularly live long happy lives with the condition, but to protect yourself and others, you’ll want to consult with your physician immediately after a positive test.
Herpes Incubation Period
The average herpes incubation period is right around four days after exposure but has been known to range anywhere from two to 12 days depending on the person. If you believe you might have been exposed to the virus, you’ll want to find a reliable test to confirm. Remember, this STD is spread via skin-to-skin contact and not exclusively through sexual acts, so guessing the start of this virus’ STD incubation period may be a tough one. As herpes symptoms and outbreaks may be sporadic, you’ll want to test and seek treatment options even if chancres aren’t yet present.
Chlamydia Incubation Period
The best time to get tested for chlamydia is around 14 days after sexual activity with a potentially infected partner, when the chlamydia incubation period has passed. If you can’t wait that long, you can technically test as soon as 48 hours after exposure, but your results may not be as accurate. The infection isn’t fully incubated until right around the two-week mark. If you test positive for this STI, you’ll want to consult with your physician to begin treatment immediately. Early testing is highly recommended since chlamydia symptoms are not always apparent.
Gonorrhea Incubation Period
If you believe you’ve been exposed to gonorrhea, you won’t have to wait too long to get tested. The gonorrhea incubation period is one of the faster, coming in at around just two to five days. At this point, a positive test will register as such. If you wait until gonorrhea symptoms arise, however, you could be waiting a month or longer for the STD incubation period to pass (assuming they show up at all, that is). If you do receive a positive test, you’ll want to consult with your physician to discuss treatment options. Generally, gonorrhea is completely curable with prescribed antibiotics.
Hepatitis C Incubation Period
The hepatitis C incubation period has a remarkably long range (around two weeks to six months) but it’s always best to test and seek treatment sooner than later. Like many STDs, most who become diagnosed with hepatitis C will exhibit no hepatitis C symptoms whatsoever, leaving testing as the only reliable way to confirm a positive diagnosis. If you do test positive, it’s important to alert your physician and seek treatment immediately.
Hepatitis B Incubation Period
Hepatitis B symptoms typically don’t show up until between 90 and 120 days or more after exposure. A condition of the liver, hepatitis B is one of the more nefarious conditions on this list, and it is gravely important that you get tested as soon as its STD incubation period passes, should you become exposed. Fortunately, most people are vaccinated for hepatitis B at a young age, and for those who aren’t, effective treatments are available.
Syphilis Incubation Period
The STD incubation period for syphilis is approximately three weeks, and by this time you may notice painful genital sores or rashes as well as flu-like syphilis symptoms (or you may remain entirely asymptomatic). If not caught and treated, syphilis, even of the asymptomatic variety, can progress and worsen. Syphilis can be cured with the right antibiotic regimen.
Trichomoniasis Incubation Period
The incubation period of trichomoniasis can range from four days up to four weeks. However, detecting the infection earlier than later is always preferred. In catching the infection early on, your doctor will be able to prescribe the appropriate antibiotic and cure the infection before it progresses. Like other STDs, trich often causes no visible trichomoniasis symptoms.
Human Papillomavirus Incubation Period
HPV is one of the more common treatable STDs and, with an STD incubation period of between two and eight months, you have some time to get tested. But remember, while keeping the HPV incubation period in mind, the sooner you can confirm a positive diagnosis, the sooner you can begin treatment (so don’t wait too long). While a handful of the 100+ HPV strains will cause unsightly (although harmless) genital warts, most of the strains cause no visible signs at all. For this reason, you’ll want to get tested even if you feel completely fine. There is no cure for HPV, but various treatments are available to keep the disease from worsening or causing a more serious condition.
Now don’t worry, we don’t expect you to commit these STD incubation periods to memory and there won’t be any pop quizzes in the near future. Just remember that there is such a thing as testing too early and doing so may give you a false sense of security. While testing and beginning treatment sooner than later is always preferred, we also want you to have the most accurate STD testing results right from the start by giving you reliable STD incubation period information and accurate testing results.