Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), usually pass from person to person through sexual contact. Testing can help make sex safer and ensure people receive proper treatment for STIs
Each STI has its own incubation period, which is how long it takes for symptoms to appear. In some cases, it can take months for an STI to show up on tests. In other cases, it may only take days.
This article explores the incubation periods of different STIs, how soon people can get tested, and the importance of testing.
The incubation period is how long it takes for symptoms to appear after exposure. The window period is how long it takes to get a positive test result for the infection after exposure. These periods are often similar.
Some general symptoms that indicate a person might have an STI include:
- genital itching or burning
- pain during intercourse or urination
- a new or unusual discharge
- bumps or growths on or around the genitals
- a foul smell coming from the genitals or after sex
However, some STIs do not cause symptoms for many years, even though a person can still get a positive test result. This is why it is important to rely on testing, not just symptoms.
In most cases, a person can get an STI test within a few weeks of exposure. If a person has a curable STI, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, they may need a retest after treatment.
People at high risk of certain STIs should ask for a retest, even after a negative result. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend annual HIV testing for people at risk, such as those whose partners have HIV or people who share needles.
The testing window for common STIs is as follows:
A nucleic acid test analyzes a blood sample for HIV. It can indicate a positive result 10–33 days after exposure. The antigen/antibody test, also a blood test, looks for HIV antibodies. It also looks for an antigen that the body produces before antibodies appear. It can get results 18–45 days after exposure.
The antibody test uses a blood or saliva sample to look for HIV antibodies. It takes the longest to get a reliable result, at 23–90 days after exposure. A person can be confident they do not have HIV if they get a negative test during the window period and have no subsequent contact with someone who could have the virus.
A doctor can test for chlamydia by swabbing the vagina, cervix, rectum, or throat, or by taking a urine sample. If symptoms appear, they usually present within 7–21 days of exposure. A test can normally detect chlamydia within 1–2 weeks of exposure.
A doctor can test for gonorrhea with a urine sample. In some cases, they may also swab the urethra, anus, throat, or cervix to get a more reliable result.
Most tests can detect the infection within 5 days to 2 weeks of exposure. If