HIV infection comes in three stages.
The Symptoms of HIV/AIDS – the First Stage
The first stage is called acute infection or seroconversion, and it typically happens within two to six weeks after exposure or becoming infected. This is when the body fights against HIV. The symptoms of acute infection look similar to those of the flu. The symptoms may last a week or two and then completely go away as the virus goes into a non-symptomatic stage.
The initial symptoms of acute HIV infection may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Aching muscles
- Sore throat
- Red rash that doesn’t itch, usually on the torso.
Call your doctor about HIV infection if you think you have come in contact with HIV. You may be tested for HIV using highly sensitive tests that detect both HIV antigen and HIV antibodies. You may also be given anti-HIV drugs to take for a prescribed period of time. There may be unpleasant side effects to these drugs, but they may stop HIV from infecting you.
Most people don’t know they’ve been infected with HIV, but weeks later they may experience the symptoms of seroconversion. These symptoms mean the body is trying to fight HIV.
The Period Without Symptoms of HIV – the Second Stage
The asymptomatic (or latent ) period, a long period without symptoms, is the second stage because the body loses the battle with HIV. This is when people may not know they are infected and can pass HIV on to others. This period can last 10 or more years. During this period without symptoms, HIV is slowly destroying the immune system.
HIV Infection and AIDS – the Third Stage
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the advanced stage of HIV infection and diagnosed when the CD4 T-cell number drops below 200.
Someone infected with HIV that has “AIDS defining illness” such as Kaposi’s sarcoma (a form of skin cancer) or pneumocystis pneumonia (a lung disease) can be diagnosed as AIDS regardless of the CD4 T-cell number.
Some people don’t know they were infected with HIV, and only discover their HIV infection after experiencing some of these HIV-related symptoms:
- Being tired all of the time
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or groin
- Fever lasting for more than 10 days
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
- Purplish spots on the skin that don’t go away
- Shortness of breath
- Severe, long-lasting diarrhea
- Yeast infections in the mouth, throat, or vagina
- Easy bruising or unexplained bleeding