For the most part, the symptoms of HIV are the result of infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and/or parasites.
Stage 1: Symptoms of early HIV infection
Many people with HIV have no symptoms for several months to even years after becoming infected. Others may develop symptoms similar to flu, usually 2-6 weeks after catching the virus.
The symptoms of early HIV infection may include:
• joint pain
• muscle aches
• sore throat
• sweats (particularly at night)
• enlarged glands
• a red rash
• unintentional weight loss
Stage 2: Asymptomatic HIV
In many cases, after the initial symptoms disappear, there will not be any further symptoms for many years.
During this time, the virus carries on developing and damaging the immune system and organs. Without being on medications to stop HIV’s replication, this process can take up to 10 years on average. The infected person often experiences no symptoms, feels well, and appears healthy.
Stage 3: Late-stage HIV infection
If left untreated, HIV weakens the ability to fight infection. The person becomes vulnerable to serious illnesses. This stage of infection is known as AIDS.
Symptoms of late-stage HIV infection may include:
• blurred vision
• diarrhea, which is usually persistent or chronic
• dry cough
• fever of above 100 °F (37 °C) lasting for weeks
• night sweats
• permanent tiredness
• shortness of breath (dyspnea)
• swollen glands lasting for weeks
• unintentional weight loss
• white spots on the tongue or mouth
During late-stage HIV infection, the risk of developing a life-threatening illness is much greater. Life-threatening illnesses may be controlled, avoided, and/or treated with proper medications, often including HIV treatment.
HIV and AIDS myths and facts
There are many misconceptions about HIV and AIDS. The virus CANNOT be transmitted from:
• shaking hands
• casual kissing
• touching the unbroken skin
• using the same toilet
• sharing towels
• sharing cutlery
• mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
• or other forms of “casual contact”
Diagnosis of HIV and AIDS
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimate that about 1 in every 8 HIV-positive Americans is unaware of their HIV-status.
HIV blood tests and results
Diagnosis is made through a blood test that screens specifically for the virus. If the HIV virus has been found, the test result is “positive.” The blood is re-tested several times before a positive result is given to the patient.
If a person has been exposed to the virus, it is crucial that they get tested as soon as possible. The earlier HIV is detected, the more likely the treatment will be successful. A home testing kit can be used as well.
After infection with HIV, it can take from 3 weeks to 6 months for the virus to show up in testing. Re-testing may be necessary. If the moment a patient was most at risk of infection was within the last 6 months, they can have the test immediately. However, the provider will urge that another test be carried out within a few weeks.
HIV infection can cause AIDS to develop. However, it is possible to be infected with HIV without developing AIDS. Without treatment, the HIV infection can progress and, eventually, it will develop into AIDS in the vast majority of cases. Once someone has received an AIDS diagnosis, it will always carry over with them in their medical history.