STDs, or STIs, usually pass from person to person through sexual contact. In most cases, a person can get an STI test within a few weeks of exposure at a health clinic or a doctor’s office.

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.

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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.

Additionally, it may also be advisable for pregnant people to test and retest for certain STIs. Individuals who have multiple or anonymous partners, or engage in more risky behaviors should also consider more regular STI testing.

The testing window for common STIs is as follows:

Type of STIPathogen type Testing windowType of test When to retest after treatment
HIVvirus10–33 days for a nucleic acid test.
18–45 days for an antigen/antibody test.
23–90 days for an antibody test
Blood or saliva test. Blood nucleic acid test gives earliest resultsNone
Chlamydiabacteria1–2 weeks Blood or urine sample, or swab of the throat, rectum, cervix, or vagina3 months
Trichomonas protozoa (parasite)1 week to 1 monthSwab of rectum, penis, or vagina2 weeks
Syphilis bacteria Within 3 weeks after sores appear. Sores appear usually 1 week after exposure Blood test6 and 12 months
Gonorrheabacteria 5 days to 2 weeks Blood or urine test. Swab of the anus, urethra, cervix, or throatTest 2 weeks after treatment, or 2 weeks later after exposure if the first test is negative
Herpesvirus 1–4 months Blood test or swab of a soreNone
HPVvirus3 weeks to a few months Pap smear in females only — no approved test for malesNone
Hepatitis virus 3–6 weeks for hepatitis B. 2–6 weeks for hepatitis CBlood testRetest 6 months later


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.

Read on to learn more about HIV RNA tests.


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 a test is negative shortly after exposure, a doctor may recommend retesting 2 weeks later, particularly if a person has symptoms.

Gonorrhea symptoms usually appear from 1 day to 2 weeks after exposure.


Herpes symptoms usually appear quickly. On average, they present 4 days after exposure, and the typical range is 2–12 days. In some cases, however, symptoms can be so mild that a person does not notice them.

A healthcare provider may take a sample or swab from a herpes sore. A blood test can also confirm a herpes diagnosis if a person has no sores or blisters. The test may be positive within a month, and by 4 months, blood testing finds most cases.


While it is possible for males to pass human papillomavirus (HPV) on to a partner, the CDC have not approved a male test. Instead, doctors may test for symptoms of the relatively rare cancers that HPV can cause, including penile cancer.

In females, HPV rarely causes symptoms. If there are indications, they could appear months or years later. The most reliable test is a Pap smear, which involves swabbing the cervix. This can detect HPV 3 weeks to a few months after exposure.


In some cases, hepatitis B and C may not cause any obvious symptoms for years. If they do appear, hepatitis B usually produces signs within 6 weeks to 6 months. Hepatitis C symptoms may appear as early as 2–6 weeks, but can sometimes take as long as 6 months.

A blood test can look for both types of hepatitis. The hepatitis B testing window is 3–6 weeks, while the hepatitis C testing window is 2–6 months. Early testing at 2 months may miss some cases, so a doctor may recommend retesting at 6 months.


A doctor can test for trichomoniasis with a swab of the rectum, penis, or vagina. Many people do not have symptoms, but some may notice a discharge or burning sensation within 5–28 days of exposure. It is possible to get a positive test within a week of exposure, though some people need to wait up to a month.


Syphilis usually begins with a sore on the genitals called a chancre. Blood tests can detect the bacteria within 1–2 weeks after the chancre appears. Chancres are typically painless and usually develop within 3 weeks of exposure, so the total testing window is about 4 weeks.

Because the development of syphilis varies from person to person, doctors often recommend retesting about 3 months after exposure.

Some STIs live in the body for many years without triggering any symptoms. Doctors may refer to them as dormant, meaning a person can never diagnose themselves based on symptoms alone.

This also means if a person is untested, they can unknowingly pass a dormant STI on to a sexual partner.

Examples of STI that can lay dormant include HIV, herpes, hepatitis C, chlamydia, syphilis, and HPV

The CDC recommend that all sexually-active adults with new or multiple partners seek testing for most STIs at least once per year.

STI testing, even for incurable infections, can save lives. It also slows the spread of STIs. Some benefits of testing are below:

  • Some STIs are easier to treat if a doctor catches them early.
  • Early STI testing can prevent a person from spreading an infection to their partners.
  • A person can have an STI without knowing it.
  • Some untreated STIs can cause serious health issues, such as cancer and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Some FAQs about STI’s may include:

What are 5 common symptoms of an STI?

Symptoms of an STI will vary depending on the underlying cause. However, some common STI symptoms may include unusual genital discharge, rashes, itchy genitals, growths or warts around the genitals or anus, and pain when urinating.

Can STIs be cured?

Many STIs are curable if a person receives prompt treatment. At present, viral STIs such as HIV, HPV, herpes, and hepatitis B are incurable. However, a person can manage symptoms with medications and there is a vaccine available against hepatitis B.

What if I think I have an STI and I’m scared?

It can be distressing if a person thinks they may have an STI. However, if a person suspects an STI, it is advisable to seek medical assistance. STIs are unlikely to resolve on their own, and ignoring symptoms can put both a person and their sexual encounters at considerable health risk and lead to long-term problems.

How do I know if I’ve got an STI?

Symptoms such as genital pain, unusual bleeding or discharge, and skin changes around the genitals may indicate an STI. However, not everyone with an STI has symptoms. If a person has symptoms, or has recently had unprotected sex with a new partner, it is advisable to take an STI test.

The right STI testing depends on many factors, including a person’s medical history, sexual history, risk of exposure, and prior history of STI tests.

It is important for people to regularly test for STIs, particularly if they have sex with multiple partners.

Early detection can make treatment easier and possibly prevent serious health issues. To reduce the risk of STIs, people should also practice safer sex techniques, such as using a condom.