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How Long Should I Wait To Test For An STD?

Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Aug 19, 2019
Last Modified Date: Aug 19, 2019
Published Date: Jun 13, 2019

How Soon After Unprotected Sex Should I Get Tested?

Worried about unprotected sex

With more than 80 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases occurring every year in the United States, one cannot but be too careful when sexually active. The American Sexual Health Association explains that one in two sexually active American will contract an STD by the time they reach the age of 25 years. While cases are on the rise, exponentially, surveys show that only 12% of young sexually active American were tested last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adds that undiagnosed sexually transmitted infections are causing infertility in 24,000 women yearly. Undiagnosed STDs that remain untreated lead to numerous health complications, with some being life threatening. It is essential to be tested part of a routine checkup.

If you are sexually active and have been engaged in a sexual act (oral, vaginal or anal); then, you need to evaluate what has happened. First, having unprotected sexual contact can always put you at risk of contracting an STI, especially if you are unsure of the status of your partner. Second, having numerous partners or having sexual contact with a partner who has numerous partners will put you at risk as well. Third, not knowing the sexual health of your partner will keep you at high risk for such sexual infections. So, if you have been engaged in any of the above listed risky sexual behavior; then, you have the right to be worried. Wisdom, in that specific case, will require you to understand everything about getting tested for STDs. Timing is essential when you are dealing with such infections. being tested too early can lead to false results, while being tested too late can cause complications and further spread of the infections to your partner(s).

When engaging in a risky sexual behavior, one may have the tendency to get tested immediately. But this is a common mistake that many sexually active individuals make. Why, you may ask? It is all because of what is called “the incubation period” that differs from an infection to another.

How Long Does It Take for STDs to Show Up?

It may be a simple equation to think that as soon as a sexually transmitted infection enters the body, you can get tested for it and detect it. But, the truth is that the exact processing route is far more complex. We get infected when a pathogen enters our system. If the route is sexual (oral, anal or vaginal); then, the infection is called an STD. The pathogen can be a virus, bacteria or other types of microbes. As soon as any of these enter the body, they start reproducing. When the infection is spread in the body and starts damaging our normal cells, disease can happen. However, every infection has its own time-frame and susceptibility.

When the infection multiplies, our immune system will be alert. Its action begins with the white blood cells and antibodies, produced to fight off the infection. Getting tested for an STD means that you are testing for the antibodies that your system has produced as a result of being exposed to an infection.

What Is an Incubation Period?

The incubation period is the time needed for the body to develop its response, following an infection. So, when the body gets exposed to a sexually transmitted infection, it starts preparing for an antibody attack to fight it off. As a result, symptoms start appearing. In other words, it is the interval of time between when the person gets exposed to an STD and when symptoms start appearing.

You should not get confused about the incubation and the window period.

Timing is critical for accurate STD testing

What Is a Window Period?

A window period is the phase between being exposed to an infection and the correct time when a test can detect the organism in the system, by measuring the produced antibodies. If you get tested without taking into consideration the infection’s window period, you might end up with a false-negative result. This means that you may have been infected; but, you did not give your body enough time to develop enough antibodies that can be detected. To be 100% sure about your results, it is recommended to be tested after the end of the window period, even if symptoms did not show.

How Long Does It Take for Chlamydia to Show Up?

This is the most reported sexually transmitted infection in the United States. During the early stages of this disease, few infected individuals show signs and symptoms. These include pain and burning while peeing and while having sexual intercourse, bleeding between periods as well as abnormal vaginal discharges for women and pus/watery discharges from the penis.

Chlamydia Incubation Period: The incubation period of Chlamydia ranges between 7 and 21 days for those who will show related symptoms.

Chlamydia Window Period: the window period of chlamydia is between 1 and 5 days.

How Long Does It Take for Gonorrhea to Show Up?

It is very common among young adults that are sexually active. This infection is caused by a bacterium that can affect the genitals, mouth or anus. Signs and symptoms are not common; but, include painful urination, pus like discharges from the penis and pain/swelling in one testicle for men; and, painful urination, intercourse as well as abdominal pain and abnormal vaginal bleeding for women.

Gonorrhea Incubation Period: the incubation period ranges from 1 to 14 days. Men who show symptoms, start noticing them two to five days post exposure. Women, on the other hand, develop them in the first 10 days following infection.

Gonorrhea Window Period: it is between 2 to 6 days.

How Long Does It Take for Hepatitis to Show Up?

Hepatitis is an infectious disease that can have serious impact on the liver. There are three main types of this viral infection: A, B and C. While some do not show symptoms, others may exacerbate signs like vomiting, poor appetite, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.

Hepatitis Incubation Period: The incubation period is different for each type of hepatitis, depending on the structure of the virus and its route of transmission. For example, for hepatitis A, it is a non-enveloped virus that does not have any glycoproteins on its exterior membrane. It is more virulent than other types of hepatitis. Hepatitis B and C, on the other hand, are enveloped and their replication process is slower than Hepatitis A. Regarding the incubation periods: for hepatitis A, it is between 15 to 50 days, for hepatitis B, it is between 45 and 160 days and for hepatitis C, it is between 14 and 180 days.

Hepatitis Window Period: for hepatitis A, it is between 2 and 7 weeks, 6 weeks for hepatitis B and 8-9 weeks for hepatitis C.

How Long Does It Take for HIV to Show Up?

The human immunodeficiency virus is a sexual infection that can lead to AIDS. In the United States, one out of four infected individuals is a woman. More than one million American live with this infection. The most common signs of HIV are body rashes, fever, sore throat and severe headaches. Weight loss is also common, along with enlarged yeast infections and flaky skins.

HIV Incubation Period: the incubation period of HIV is between two to four weeks after being exposed to the virus. That’s when symptoms like the flu start appearing and can last for many weeks.

HIV Window Period: window periods can differ between a virus to testing technique and another. An HIV antibody test would need a period of 30 to 90 days to show a correct result.

How Long Does It Take for Herpes to Show Up?

Herpes simplex viruses come in two main types: type-1 that is also referred to as oral herpes and type -2 that is referred to as genital herpes. The first type causes sores around the mouth and lips. The second type causes these sores around the genital area. Both are distinct. This means that you cannot get oral herpes from a person who is infected with genital herpes.

HSV1 & HSV2 (Herpes) Incubation Periods: the initial incubation period for a herpes infection is between 2 and 12 days with an average of 4 days. When the vesicles break, leading to ulcers, it will take the person 2 to 4 weeks to heal.

HSV1 & HSV2 (Herpes) Window Periods: the seroconversion period of this STD is 3-6 weeks. This is the time needed for the person to produce antibodies that can be de detected by testing. The majority of infected individuals have reported detectable antibodies around 16 weeks post exposure.

How Long Does It Take for Syphilis to Show Up?

This is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by a bacterium. It starts as a painless sore than usually appears on the genitals, rectum and mouth. This bacteria can remain in the body for years, after the initial infection.

Syphilis Incubation Period: developing a chancre is the primary stage of this infection. While the average incubation time of syphilis is 21 days, symptoms can appear anytime between 10 and 90 days.

Syphilis Window Period: 3-6 weeks in general; but, most resources recommend getting tested 90 days after exposure.

How Long Does It Take for Trichomoniasis to Show Up?

Trichomoniasis Incubation Period: this period extends from 5 to 28 days after exposure. When the infecting agent enters the body, it takes some time for it to show symptoms. While the majority of men and women who contract Trichomoniasis do not show any symptoms, others do show signs. Women experience pain during urination and sexual intercourse, genital redness and itchiness as well as foul-smelling vaginal discharge that vary in color from white to green. Men experience irritation inside their penis as well as a burning sensation during urination and intercourse.

Trichomoniasis Window Period: you can get tested for this most curable disease 3 to 7 days after exposure.