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HIV Symptoms

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What are the symptoms of HIV?

How long it takes HIV symptoms to appear differs from person to person. For some individuals, it may take several years or more before an HIV symptom presents itself. For others, symptoms may appear soon after initial infection. Unfortunately, often times a person living without symptoms will spread HIV to others unknowingly. The only sure way to know whether or not you have HIV is to take an HIV Test. For people who participate in high- risk activities, such as having unprotected sex or sharing drug needles, the CDC recommends getting tested at least once a year or before beginning a new sexual relationship.

How can I tell if someone has HIV?

There is no way to tell if someone has HIV rather than getting tested together and discussing the test results. Anyone can be infected with HIV. In fact, the CDC estimates that approximately 250,000 American have HIV and are not aware of their infection yet. A person's HIV status cannot be determined by their appearance, gender, age, race, sexual orientation or nationality.

What do HIV symptoms feel like?

Early symptoms of HIV may feel like (and may even be mistaken for) a long-lasting flu. These flu-like symptoms may occur 4-8 weeks after infection, and are known as HIV seroconversion or an acute HIV infection. Some of the symptoms that result from HIV seroconversion syndrome include the following:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rash on the abdomen, arms, legs and face
  • Sore throat
  • Oral thrush (a fungal infection found in the mouth)

During the initial period of infection, the body's immune system fights the HIV virus and as a result rids itself of flu-like symptoms. A person's ability to spread HIV is highest during this stage due to the high amount of the virus in the blood.

Effects of uncontrolled or untreated HIV

An uncontrolled or untreated HIV infection can lead to serious health complications, including AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). As the HIV virus progresses over the course of months or years, the body's immune system continues to deteriorate and weaken, ultimately leading to AIDS. Once the disease moves into the clinical latency stage (also known as asymptomatic or chronic HIV infection), HIV reproduces at very low levels, but is still active. As an individual's viral load (amount of HIV in the blood) begins to rise and their CD4+ (white blood cell) count begins to fall, they are vulnerable to a series of infections and opportunistic illnesses. This advanced stage of HIV is known as AIDS. The immune system is compromised by this point and is unable to protect the body from HIV-related symptoms or new infections or illnesses. These symptoms include:

  • Swollen lymph glands (in the neck and groin)
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Repeated fevers and night sweats
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Sore throat
  • Joint pain
  • Weight loss
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Mouth sores and ulcers
  • Gingivitis (gum disease)
  • For women: yeast infections (mouth and vagina) and PID (pelvic inflammatory disease)

Additional symptoms that result from an HIV-weakened immune system include repeated skin rashes or flaky skin, oral thrush, skin pox (sores or blisters), fungal infections on the skin or nails, and seborrheic dermatitis (oily coating, crust or scales on the skin).