Many people who have recently become infected with HIV experience some early symptoms of the infection. Research carried out by the National Aids Trust, in the UK, suggests that between 70% and 90% of people who become infected will show some early signs of the illness. After this, there is a latent period, when you may not have any attributable symptoms, but the virus is damaging your body.  The final stage of the infection is when a person is diagnosed with AIDS. With appropriate treatment, most people do not go on to develop AIDS.

Early Symptoms

Early symptoms of HIV, are a sign that the body’s immune system has detected an infection.  They are a sign that your body is trying to resist the virus.

Symptoms, when they occur, usually occur two to six weeks after any exposure. They can last for up to four weeks. They are often similar to cold and flu symptoms.

Most commonly they include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Body rash

Other symptoms can include:

  • Tiredness
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Swollen glands
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea

These symptoms are common to many illnesses. Most people will experience them during their life, but it does not mean you are HIV positive. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.

Research shows that the sooner you are diagnosed with HIV, then the more effective treatment will be. A specialist HIV doctor will ensure that you receive the most appropriate treatment. With correct disease management, HIV is no longer the life-threatening illness it once was.

Better2Know has HIV tests which can accurately detect the virus, from just ten days after any potential exposure.

Second Phase of HIV Infection: Signs and Symptoms

After any early symptoms, a HIV positive person can look, and feel well, for the first few years of the infection. This period is known as the asymptomatic stage.  It is usually a long period of fewer symptoms. During this time you may find that it takes longer to get over colds and other infections. Without treatment, this period can last around 8 to 10 years. With appropriate treatment this stage can last much longer.  It may never develop to AIDS.

During this second phase, the virus attacks the immune system. This attack causes a drop in the CD4 count. CD4 is a protein found on the surface of a type of white blood cell (T cells). These cells play an important role in fighting off infections in the body. It is the CD4 cells, which send a signal to other cells in the body, that an infection is present, and needs to be destroyed. Therefore if there are less CD4 cells, then the body is less able to fight any infections.

Symptomatic Stage

As the CD4 count drops, the immune system becomes weaker. You may begin to experience signs of other illnesses.These other illnesses can indicate that the person may have entered the third stage, which is known as the symptomatic stage. 

Symptoms of other illnesses at this stage can include:

  • Sudden weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Increased cold sore outbreaks
  • Prolonged swollen glands
  • Tiredness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin, inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
  • Memory Loss
  • Depression
  • Neurological disorders

The symptomatic stage is when the immune system struggles to cope. Other infections are more frequent, and become much harder for the body to fight.  This is the phase that you may be diagnosed with AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

AIDS is not an illness, but a condition that occurs when the immune system is weakened to such a point that it cannot cope. The body becomes an easy target for other infections. An AIDS defining illness will usually occur for someone to receive their AIDS diagnosis.

Most people with HIV, who take the appropriate treatment early, and consistently, will not go on to develop AIDS.

Any of these symptoms can occur in people without HIV. Even at this stage, the only way to know if you are HIV positive is to get tested. 

You should always consider a test if:

  • You have recently had unprotected sex (without a condom) with a new partner
  • A sexual partner tells you they are HIV positive
  • You have shared needles or injecting equipment
  • You have had a tattoo or piercing without a sterile needle
  • You, or your partner, have had unprotected sex (without a condom) with other partners
  • You, or your partner, have another sexually transmitted infection
  • You are pregnant or planning a pregnancy
  • You are concerned about a recent blood transfusion

You should also consider a test if there is any chance where an exchange of bodily fluids may have taken place.