Incubation period of common STDs

The incubation period is the length of time between when you contract a disease and when you develop symptoms. Knowing how long the incubation period is for a sexually transmitted infection (STI) can help you determine if you have an STI. It can also help you know when to see a healthcare provider.

This article will help you understand how long it usually takes for symptoms of a specific STI to appear after exposure. In some cases, it can take a lot longer than you think.

How long before STI symptoms appear?

The time between exposure to an STI and when you start showing symptoms depends on the disease you have been exposed to. Below are the most common sexually transmitted infections and their incubation periods.

Chlamydia

Many people never have any symptoms of chlamydia.This is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis.

When symptoms do appear, they are usually not apparent for several weeks after infection.

Even without symptoms, people with chlamydia can develop complications. Therefore, regular screening for this STI is critical.

gonorrhea

gonorrhea is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae germ. It is usually asymptomatic (no symptoms).

When symptoms do appear, they can appear as early as a day after exposure, or it can take up to two weeks.

syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial infection caused by a Treponema pallidum. Syphilis initially causes genital sores (open sores). This occurred on average 21 days after infection.

However, ulcers can develop anytime between 10 and 90 days after exposure to the bacteria.

chancre

Genital ulcers associated with chancroid are caused by Haemophilus ducreyi germ.

This sexually transmitted infection is rare in the United States, but when it occurs, lesions usually appear within 4 to 10 days of exposure.

Trichomoniasis

Although penile symptoms Trichomoniasis (“trich”) may be mild or asymptomatic, with vaginal symptoms usually appearing 5 to 28 days after exposure.

Trich is made by Trichomonas vaginalis parasites.

scabies

Scabies is caused by parasitic mites scabies scabies. Female mites burrow under the skin and lay two to three eggs a day. She burrows and lays eggs all her life, usually a month or two. When the larvae hatch, they cause an itchy rash.

If you’ve never had scabies before, it may take two to six months before symptoms appear. If you have been infected before, symptoms may appear one to four days later.

condyloma acuminatum

Genital warts are caused by a type of human papillomavirus (HPV).

Symptomatic HPV has a long incubation period, so genital warts can take months or years to appear.

genital herpes

Most people never know they have genital herpes, which is caused by the herpes simplex virus.

When it is symptomatic, it can cause genital damage. These usually indicate 2 to 12 days of exposure to the virus. Some people also experience fever and systemic symptoms of the virus at the same time.

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Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Most people with HIV experience no symptoms for years. Some people develop fever and flu-like symptoms about two weeks after exposure. However, most people do not consider these to be symptoms of HIV.

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. Most people will test positive for antibodies within three weeks to three months of exposure. So if you were only exposed to the virus in the last week, a negative test is not a reliable indicator of your infection status.

If antigen/antibody testing is performed directly using venous blood, infection can be detected within 18-45 days of exposure. If blood is drawn with a finger, it can take up to 90 days.

Nucleic acid tests can detect infection earlier — within 10-33 days — but these tests are very expensive, so they are not used for routine screening.

Hepatitis B

Symptoms of hepatitis B virus usually appear within two to five months of infection and can range from mild flu-like symptoms to more serious illnesses such as jaundice and liver disease.

molluscum contagiosum

Scientists unsure of virus’s incubation period molluscum contagiosum The virus, which causes small, raised, fluid-filled bumps on the skin. Current estimates range from two weeks to six months.

If you think you may have been exposed to any sexually transmitted infection, you should get tested right away.

Asymptomatic sexually transmitted infections are common

It’s important to remember that waiting for symptoms to appear is not a good way to find out if you or your partner have an STI. Many STIs can remain asymptomatic for years. In other words, there are no obvious signs of infection.

Also, some people may not have STI symptoms at all and still be contagious.

Examples of sexually transmitted infections that may be asymptomatic for long periods of time include:

  • gonorrhea
  • Chlamydia
  • herpes
  • HIV
  • human papilloma virus
  • Trichomoniasis

The absence of symptoms does not guarantee that you do not have an STI. You can be infected and be able to pass the disease on to your sexual partner. This is why there is no substitute for routine screening.

How to Diagnose a Sexually Transmitted Infection

Doctors diagnose different STIs in different ways.

For example, urine tests can detect gonorrhea and chlamydia, while blood tests can detect syphilis, herpes and HIV. Genital swabs are required to detect other infections.

Types of STI Tests
Infect test
Chlamydia urine test or swab
gonorrhea urine test or swab
syphilis blood test
chancre swab
Trichomoniasis urine test or swab
scabies Physical examination or skin abrasions
Genital Warts (HPV) swab
genital herpes swab
HIV blood test or swab
Hepatitis B blood test
molluscum contagiosum physical examination
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When to get tested

The timing of the test depends on the STI you may have been exposed to. Generally, two to three weeks after exposure or when you notice symptoms is a good recommendation.

However, some infections cannot be accurately detected for months. Knowing which STI you are exposed to will make it easier to understand when the test is most accurate.

Incubation period
Infect incubation period
Chlamydia few weeks
gonorrhea 1-14 days
syphilis 10–90 days
chancre 4-10 days
Trichomoniasis 5–28 days
scabies 1 day – 6 months
Genital Warts (HPV) months – years
genital herpes 2-12 days
HIV several years
Hepatitis B 2-5 months
molluscum contagiosum 2 weeks – 6 months

If you have an STI, wait for the right time to be tested

Reason for being tested

It’s also worth noting that concerns about the incubation period for STIs aren’t just for people who have unprotected sex. While practicing safer sex can greatly reduce your risk, it’s not a foolproof protection.

Condoms and other barriers can reduce the risk of disease, but not prevent it completely. That’s why it’s a good idea to discuss testing and potential risks with a new partner before having sex.

Guidelines for Regular Sexually Transmitted Infection Screening

generalize

The incubation period for an STI depends on which one you have been exposed to. The time from exposure to onset of symptoms can vary from a few days to as long as six months.

Also, some STIs don’t always cause symptoms. This means that you may have been infected without you realizing it. That’s why regular STI testing is essential.

Ask your healthcare provider about STDs

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14 sources

VigorTip Health uses only high-quality resources, including peer-reviewed research, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chlamydia – CDC fact sheet (detail).

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gonorrhea – CDC fact sheet (detail).

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Syphilis – CDC fact sheet (detail).

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. chancre.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trichomoniasis – CDC Fact Sheet.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scabies – Biology.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. scabies.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital HPV infection – a fact sheet.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital Herpes – CDC fact sheet (detail).

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About HIV.

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Types of HIV testing.

  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis B Q&A for Health Professionals.

  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Molluscum contagiosum – clinical information.

  14. Workowski KA, Bachmann LH, Chan PA, et al. 2021 Sexually Transmitted Infection Treatment Guidelines. MMWR Recommended Representative2021;70(4):1-187. doi:10.15585/mmwr.rr7004a1

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