incubation time stds

Around 1 million new cases of acquired sexually transmitted infections happen every day. Also, an estimated 376 million new cases appear with 1 of 4 STIs:

  • gonorrhea
  • syphilis
  • chlamydia
  • trichomoniasis

There are four categories of people with STDs. The first one knows they have an STD but keep transmitting it. They know so because they have symptoms. The second one knows they have an STD but treat it. They have symptoms, as well. The third category is asymptomatic, so them transmitting an STD is partially justified. Finally, some aren't aware of their STD just because their symptoms aren't visible yet. What they all have in common is they did not pay enough attention when it came to sexual protection. In other words, they were exposed to unprotected sex, at least once in the past. The period it takes for an STD to produce symptoms after exposure is the incubation period of the infection.

How long does it take for an STD to show up?

Sometimes diseases take 1-2 days to produce symptoms while others take weeks to months. So, the incubation period varies depending on the nature of the disease. There is not any particular rule relevant to the STDs' incubation period. STDs are the result of infections that behave as they always do. However, there are a few clues that the incubation period can give us about our potential STI. If you exposed yourself to a contagious source, but the incubation period has passed by, leaving you without symptoms, there are two possible scenarios; you either are asymptomatic or you didn't get infected. All you have to do to find out is to get tested. You can do so with at-home std kits, which are available in the market. Another possibility is that you are immune to the infection because you already have antibodies against it.

How Soon Can I Get Tested After Having Unprotected Sex?

But are we contagious during the incubation period?

Some diseases are not contagious during the incubation period, but others are. Besides, some may become contagious one or two days before the appearance of the symptoms. The lack of symptoms accompanied by the potential contagiousness during the incubation period creates a vicious cycle of unaware transmission of STDs. This is why we should responsibly get tested after exposure to an STD, even in the absence of symptoms. The following are some of the most common STIs and their incubation periods.

  • Chlamydia's incubation period is 1 to 3 weeks, if symptomatic. However, most chlamydia cases are asymptomatic. Having an asymptomatic STI is tricky because complications can still take place.
  • Gonorrhea's incubation period is 2 days to 1 month, if symptomatic. Like chlamydia, it is usually asymptomatic too, making it a hard STD to diagnose.
  • Syphilis's incubation period is 10 to 90 days, but 21 days on average. Symptoms start characteristically, with the appearance of a chancre. The chancre represents the first stage of syphilis.
  • Chancroid's incubation period is 1 day to several weeks, but 5 to 7 days on average.
  • Trichomoniasis becomes symptomatic 5 to 28 days after exposure, mostly in women. Men are usually asymptomatic.
  • Scabies appears 1 to 2 months after exposure. However, if exposed before, the incubation period shortens up to a couple of days.
  • Genital Warts, when symptomatic, appear within 3 months after exposure.
  • Genital Herpes might make its first outbreak within 2 weeks, with a full-body phenotype of a viral infection.
  • HIV may stay asymptomatic for a very long time. Some infections take years to become symptomatic. A flue-like condition may appear 2 weeks after exposure.
  • Hepatitis B shows symptoms 4 to 6 weeks after exposure. Prevention of HBV is possible through vaccination.
How Soon Can I Get Tested After Having Unprotected Sex?

How long after contracting an STD, is it detectable?

When people are aware they exposed themselves to an STI, they usually wonder when is the right time to get tested for it. In other words, most STIs are not detectable immediately after exposure. There is a certain amount of time that needs to pass for an infection to show on tests. This period is called the window period and is different than the incubation period.

Window period of STDs


If you exposed yourself to chlamydia, perform a test within 24 hours to 5 days. Following treatment, ensure to get tested again after 2 weeks. The purpose is to validate that you got rid of the chlamydia pathogen.


You should screen for gonorrhea within a maximum of 2 to 6 days. After treatment, get tested again in 2 weeks.


3 to 6 weeks is the peak during which you should screen for syphilis. After treatment, get tested again in 3 months.

Hepatitis A 

You should get tested for hepatitis A in a maximum of 2 to 7 weeks. The HAV virus has a mean incubation period of 28-days. Retesting is not necessary as the virus will stay in your body for life, once acquired.

Hepatitis B 

After you exposed yourself to hepatitis B, you can detect the virus in as early as 3 weeks. For more accurate results, it is recommended that you get tested after 6 weeks. Retesting is not necessary as the virus will stay in your body for life, once acquired.

Hepatitis C 

Hepatitis C has an incubation period of a maximum of 8 to 9 weeks. Get tested again after 3 months to confirm the initial results.

How Soon Can I Get Tested After Having Unprotected Sex?

Oral Herpes 

You should get tested for oral herpes in a maximum of 4 to 6 weeks. If your test is negative, ensure to get tested again soon.

Genital Herpes 

Get tested for herpes-2 (HSV-2) after 4 to 6 weeks, post-sex. You may consider getting tested after 3 months to confirm the initial results.


You must get tested for HIV in the first 1 to 3 months. Retesting is not needed, as HIV will stay in your body for life. Seek immediate treatment if you are HIV positive.