STI Incubation Periods: Everything You Need To Know

STI Incubation Periods: Everything You Need To Know

Had a festive fling and worried you've come away with more than just a one night stand? New Year's Eve is a popular night of the year for casual sex, but with it comes an increase in sexually transmitted infections. If you've had a holiday hookup and think you may have contracted an STI, here's what you need to know.

What is an STI incubation period?

The incubation period of STIs (also referred to as sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs) is the time between when a person is infected with the sexually transmitted infection and when they begin to experience symptoms. The incubation period can vary depending on specific infections. Some STIs may not cause any symptoms at all, so a person may be infected and not know it. This is why it's important to get tested.

How many days after exposure do STI symptoms appear?

The time it takes for STI symptoms to appear after exposure depends on the specific STI. Here is a general overview of symptoms and incubation periods by infection type:


The incubation period for HIV is typically 2 to 4 weeks, although it can take as long as several months for signs to appear. Early signs of HIV include flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue and/or a sore throat, body rashes, swollen lymph glands, mouth ulcers, muscle and joint pain, nausea and vomiting, night sweats, and unexplained weight loss.


The incubation period for chlamydia is between 7 to 21 days. Symptoms of chlamydia in men include cloudy or watery discharge from the penis, pain or burning sensation when urinating, pain and swelling around the testicles, and burning around the opening of the penis. Chlamydia symptoms in women include itching in the urethra, pain or burning while urinating, pain or bleeding during intercourse, and abnormal vaginal discharge with a strong smell.


The incubation period for gonorrhoea is usually 2 to 5 days. One of the most common symptoms of gonorrhoea in men is a white, yellow, or green pus-like discharge from the penis, and a burning sensation in the penis when urinating. Gonorrhoea symptoms tend to be milder in women and can be easily mistaken for a bladder infection. In about half of all cases, there will be no symptoms at all.


The incubation period for herpes is typically 2 to 12 days. There are two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV) - HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is commonly known as oral herpes, and it causes cold sores or fever blisters on the mouth or face. HSV-2 is referred to as genital herpes, and it causes sores or blisters on the genitals. Genital herpes should not be confused with genital warts, these are caused by HPV, which gets picked up on a pap smear test.


The incubation period for syphilis is between 3 to 6 weeks. The initial symptom of syphilis is usually a single sore, although it can also be multiple sores. It starts as a pimple but will then ulcerate to form a small, round, and painless ulcer.

When should I get tested?

If you're experiencing any of the symptoms we've mentioned, don't panic. Sexually transmitted infections are extremely common and nothing to be ashamed of. The most important thing is knowing your diagnosis and getting treatment. Firstly, you will need to take a test. The easiest way to do this is through iPlaySafe. They offer home STI tests that are integrated with an app.

Once you receive your kit you will need to take a blood test and urine sample and return these to the lab in the pre-paid envelope provided. Make sure you provide an adequate urine and blood sample, as an insufficient sample can lead to an inconclusive result. Your STI test results will be sent directly to your app within 2-5 working days, in the form of a 'play badge'. If you test positive, you'll have the option to talk to a nurse about treatment and discuss your next steps.

What is the window period for STI blood tests?

The "window period" is different to an STD incubation period, but the two are often confused. Window periods are the time between when a person is infected and when the infection can be detected by a diagnostic test. This depends on the STD and the type of test used. For example, the window period for HIV can be as long as 3 months after infection, meaning your test results may come back negative despite you being infected. This is something you need to be aware of if you believe you have been in contact with an HIV positive person - make sure you retest. Most other infections will show up on diagnostic tests within a few weeks.

Do STIs get transmitted immediately after infection?

STIs can be transmitted immediately upon exposure, so it's important to always practice safe sex. Transmission can vary depending on the specific STI and the circumstances of the exposure. Some infections, such as HIV and Hepatitis B, can be transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids like blood, semen, and vaginal secretions. These infections can be passed on through sexual contact and other means such as sharing needles.

Other STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, are caused by bacteria and typically transmitted through genital contact. These can be passed on relatively quickly, especially if there are open sores or cuts on the skin.

What are some safe sex best practices?

Get tested. Make STI tests a priority for your wellbeing. Unfortunately there is still a stigma around testing. If you're thinking you have to go to a clinic, talk a doctor through your sexual history, and be judged, this isn't the case! It's so easy and completely private and confidential - especially with a home STI testing kit. A sexually active adult should get tested every 3-6 months.

Use protection. STIs are passed on through unprotected sex. When used correctly and consistently every time you have sex, condoms have been shown to be 98% effective against the transmission of most common STIs. We like Smile Makers ultra-thin condoms, check them out here

Communicate! You might feel awkward asking someone when they last got tested, but this is your health we are talking about. Bringing this conversation up with potential sexual partners shows that you respect yourself and your body, and they should too. The iPlaySafe app is a great way to start these conversations - you can share your play badge and ask your partner for theirs. 

So there we have it. We hope this article has given you some clarification on when symptoms appear, and when you should test. Most STIs are easy to get rid of with medical treatment - they are incredibly common and nothing to feel ashamed of. The first step is simple STI testing, in order to get you the diagnosis and treatment you need. Order your home STI test kit here

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