Contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can be a scary thought, so it is expected that many people want to know ‘how soon can you test for STDs?’ While you should always get tested on at least a yearly basis if you are sexually active, there are certain factors to consider in order to get the best results from lab tests.
One of the factors which should be considered is the timeframe since potential transmission. Every sexually transmitted disease has its own period after transmission but before symptoms begin, called “incubation”. According to the North Dakota Department of Health, an incubation period is:
“The time elapsed between exposure to a bacteria or virus and when symptoms and signs are first apparent.”
Most STD tests look for specific antigens or antibodies characteristic of each illness. During the incubation period, our immune system has not had enough time to react to the bacteria/virus or the bacteria/virus has not multiplied enough to become noticeable. If tests are performed at this stage, it leaves the lab technician with little evidence to base their results. This can often lead to what is known as a “false negative” when the test comes back negative but in reality, it should have been a positive result.
Different STDs and STIs have varying incubation periods ranging from 3 days to 3 months. Below is a list of common sexually transmitted illnesses and how long we recommend waiting before getting tested.
- Chlamydia testing works best at least 5 days after transmission.
- Gonorrhea testing is more accurate after 4 days.
- Herpes can be accurately detected 10 days after exposure. However, Priority STD offers early detection testing called a herpes IgG and IgM combo test for the herpes simplex virus. Symptoms can begin two to 20 days after exposure and testing can be done as soon as possible after symptoms. If the virus goes undetected for a few months, the standard herpes test is recommended as more accurate.
- HIV takes about 3 months to complete its incubation period for a standard HIV antibody test. Afterward, there are enough antibodies to base a conclusive test. However, an HIV RNA early detection test can be administered 10 days after contact.
- Syphilis is strange in regards to its incubation period. The waiting period of this infection can range between 10 to 90 days on a case-by-case basis. The key to testing promptly for syphilis is to keep an eye out for tell-tale symptoms and get tested if you may have had contact with the STI. Common symptoms for primary (early) stage syphilis include pimples, rash and sores on or in genitals or your mouth (often but not always small, round and painless).
- Trichomoniasis, similar to syphilis, has a wide incubation range of 5 to 28 days. As always, if you should show symptoms or believe that you had sexual contact with someone who might have been carrying this parasite-causing STD, get tested as soon as possible.
If you should have doubts concerning your sexual health, it is always a good idea to get tested. By keeping these incubation periods in mind, you should be able to make informed decisions on when to get tested and for which disease/infection. This will not only save you from needing to get tested again, but it will also prevent the possibility of a STD going without treatment. Granted, the thought of having a STD is understandably alarming–however, it is in your best interest to be tested at the correct time and obtain the most reliable results.
Here at Priority STD, we want to make sure that our patients feel zero pressure when getting tested. After you have signed up for testing, we provide an ample amount of 90 days to visit any of our testing centers during their business hours. Hence, if you feel that testing is necessary, this window allows you to wait until the estimated incubation period has passed or if potential symptoms have developed.