The Incubation Period of Common STDs

An incubation period is the length of time between infection and when symptoms appear. Knowing how long sexually transmitted disease (STD) incubation periods are will help determine if you have an STD. It can also help you know when you should take appropriate action.

If you wonder about your risks of getting an STD, this article can help you understand how long it usually takes for STD symptoms to show up after exposure.

Illustrated chart of incubation periods for common STDs

Verywell

How Long Before STD Symptoms Appear?

The time between exposure to an STD and when you start having symptoms depends on the disease you were exposed to.

  • Chlamydia: Many people never have any symptoms of chlamydia. However, when symptoms do appear, it is usually one to three weeks after exposure to the bacteria. Even without symptoms, people with chlamydia can have complications. So, it is crucial to seek out screening for this STD regularly.
  • Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea is frequently asymptomatic (it has no symptoms). When symptoms appear, they may show up as early as two days after exposure or take as long as one month.
  • Syphilis: The chancre characteristic of the first stage of syphilis appears, on average, twenty-one days after infection. However, it may occur anytime between 10 to 90 days after exposure to the bacterium.
  • Chancroid: Symptoms of chancroid may appear anytime from one day to several weeks after infection. But, most people find that lesions appear within five to seven days.
  • Trichomoniasis: Although penile symptoms can be mild or asymptomatic, vaginal symptoms usually appear five to 28 days after exposure.
  • Scabies: If you have never had scabies before, it may take one to two months for symptoms to appear. However, if you were have previously infected, symptoms may show up after only a couple of days.
  • Genital warts: Most people who have symptomatic genital warts will experience their first outbreak within three months of initial infection.
  • Genital herpes: Although most people never know they're infected, if symptoms occur, they usually show up within two weeks of exposure to the virus. Some people will also experience a fever and full-body viral symptoms around the same time.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): In most of the infected population, HIV remains asymptomatic for years, although some people will get a fever and flu-like symptoms around two weeks after exposure. However, most people do not experience or recognize these symptoms. So, the only way to know if you have HIV is through testing. Even so, it may take up to six months after exposure to HIV before you test positive on an HIV antibody test, although most infected people will test positive within three months. Therefore, a negative test isn't a reliable indicator of your infection status if you were only exposed last week. Tests that look directly for HIV RNA, the virus' genetic material, can detect infection earlier, but those tests are harder to find.
  • Hepatitis B: Symptoms of hepatitis B usually show up between four to six weeks after infection. However, hepatitis Bentirelytely preventable by vaccination.
  • Molluscum contagiosum: Scientists are uncertain about the incubation period of molluscum contagiosum. Current estimates range from two weeks to six months.

If you think you may have had exposure to any STDs, you should get tested right away.

Asymptomatic STDs Are Common

It's essential to keep in mind, though, that symptoms aren't always a good measure of determining whether you or your partner(s) have an STD. Many sexually transmitted diseases can remain asymptomatic for years. In other words, there are no noticeable signs of infection.

Furthermore, someone can have no STD symptoms at all and still be contagious. Examples of asymptomatic contagious STDs include:

  • Gonorrhea
  • Chlamydia
  • Herpes
  • HIV

A lack of symptoms is no guarantee that you don't have an STD. You may be infected and able to transmit the disease to any partners.

That's why there's no substitute for regular screening.

How STDs Are Diagnosed

Doctors diagnose different STDs in different ways. For example, urine tests can detect gonorrhea and chlamydia, whereas a blood test detects syphilis, herpes, and HIV. Additionally, others require genital swabs.

Types of STD Tests
Infection Test
Chlamydia Urine test or swab
Gonorrhea Urine test or swab
Syphilis Blood test
Chancroid Swab
Trichomoniasis Urine test or swab
Scabies Physical exam or skin scrape
Genital warts (HPV) Swab
Genital Herpes Urine test or swab
HIV Blood test or swab
Heptaitis B Blood test
Molluscum contagiosum Physical exam

When to Get Tested

The timing of testing depends on which STD you may have been exposed to. Generally speaking, two to three weeks after exposure or when you notice symptoms is a good idea.

However, some infections are unable to be accurately detected for months. Knowing which STD you came into contact with will make it easier to understand when testing will be most accurate.

Incubation Periods
Infection Incubation Period
Chlamydia 1-3 weeks
Gonorrhea 2-30 days
Syphilis 21-90 days
Chancroid 1-21 days
Trichomoniasis 5-28 days
Scabies 2-60 days
Genital warts (HPV) 3 months
Genital Herpes 2 weeks
HIV 3-6 months
Heptaitis B 4-6 weeks
Molluscum contagiosum 2 weeks - 6 months

Reasons to Get Tested

It's also worth noting that concerns about STD incubation periods aren't just for people who have unprotected sex. Although practicing safer sex can drastically reduce your stress levels and risk, it isn't foolproof protection.

Condoms and other barriers can reduce the risk of diseases, but they can't entirely prevent them. That's why it's a good idea to talk about testing and risk potential with new partners before you have sex.

Summary

The incubation period of STDs depends on which STD you were exposed to. The time from exposure to when symptoms appear can range from a few days to as long as six months. In addition, some STDs don't always present with symptoms. That means you may be infected but be unaware. That's why regular STD testing is essential.

A Word From Verywell

If you think you were exposed to an STD, don't wait for symptoms to show up before getting tested. Remember, sometimes STDs are asymptomatic. So, always talk openly with new sexual partners about STDs and testing and get tested regularly. Also, be sure to speak to your doctor right away if you've had potential exposure to an STD.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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