NOTE: The following is a brief summary of early/late HIV symptoms. Not everybody infected with HIV will show one or more of the following symptoms. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for 10 years or more. HIV Symptoms alone are not a reliable sign in order to determine HIV infection. The only reliable and certain way to find out about HIV infection is HIV testing. Individuals who have recently been exposed to HIV—e.g. by oral, vaginal or anal sex without a condom with a known HIV positive person or a partner whose HIV status is not known or shared needles to inject drugs—should request to be tested for HIV.
Important: an infected individual, with or without HIV symptoms, is at particularly high risk of transmitting HIV to sexual or drug using partners during the early stages of HIV infection because of the very high levels of HIV in the affected individual’s blood stream- it is very important to take proper steps in order to reduce risk of transmission. During the early stages of HIV infection the body is not yet producing HIV antibodies used by HIV tests in order to detect HIV infections. In 2013, a new HIV test was approved that can detect the presence of HIV in human body during the early stage of infection. It is very important to inform the health care provider about a recent HIV infection and to be tested for acute HIV.
Once the HIV virus has entered a human body, it starts to invade immune cells, continues to replicate (multiply), destroy the cells, and invade further cells with even more numbers of the virus- the result is a gradual decrease in the immune system potency: immune deficiency.
The early HIV symptoms are depending on the infected individual: age, health status, and other factors will mostly affect how soon or late HIV starts to show its symptoms. Stage of the disease is another determining factor of symptom development.
HIV Symptoms in Different Stages:
EARLY STAGE OF HIV: “Acute Retro-viral Syndrome” (ARS) or “Primary HIV Infection”
Flu like symptoms are one of the most commonly experienced symptoms of early HIV infection which I usually described as the “worst flu ever.” These HIV symptoms usually start within 2-4 weeks after HIV infection has happened and is experienced by many, but not all, infected individuals. This symptoms result as the body’s natural response to the HIV infection.
Symptoms of ARS may include fever (this is the most common symptom), swollen glands, sore throat, rash, fatigue, muscle and joint aches and pains, and headaches.
The Clinical Latency Stage: “Asymptomatic HIV Infection” or “Chronic HIV Infection”
The “silent”, “dormant”, or “latency” period of HIV infection is the least symptomatic and sometimes the longest period of HIV infection- it can last an average of 10 years.
During the latency period, the virus is leaving in or developing in the infected individual causing only mild to no HIV symptoms. During this clinical latency period, the virus reproduces and increases in numbers only very slowly. Stronger individuals or individuals on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) may remain in this stage for many decades; weak individuals on the other hand, or those without proper treatment, may progress to the last stage of the disease in a much shorter period of time.
Important: Individuals in the symptom-free latency period are still able to transmit HIV to others even if on ART.
Late/End Stage of HIV: AIDS: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome
After the latency period, and with the lack of proper anti-retroviral medication, the HIV infection is most probably going to progress to the fully developed stage of the disease: AIDS.
AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection where the virus has damaged and weakened the immune system in so far that it is not anymore able to fight simple infections, or certain types of cancer, which it usually would not be having any troubles to getting rid of.
Late stage HIV symptoms may include: rapid weight loss, recurring fever or profuse night sweats, extreme and unexplained tiredness, prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck, diarrhea that lasts for more than a week, sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals, pneumonia, red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids, and memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.
As discussed before, many of the severe HIV symptoms and illnesses of HIV disease come from the opportunistic infections that occur because the body’s immune system has been damaged. Many of these opportunistic infections do usually not pose a life threatening risk to the body, if the immune system is intact and able to fight them properly-like in most non HIV infected individuals.
The diagnosis of AIDS is made by blood tests or the occurrence of one or more specific opportunity infections, certain cancers, or a very low number of CD4 cells.
As the late stage of HIV, AIDS requires medical intervention and the use of potent medication in order to prevent death.
We discussed about HIV Symptoms in this blog post, you can read more about what HIV is, How it is transmitted in our previous posts, we will discuss more about HIV prevention and HIV Statistics in the world.