Many people do not develop symptoms after getting infected with HIV. Others have a flu-like illness within several days to weeks after exposure to the virus. They complain of fever, headache, tiredness, and enlarged lymph glands in the neck. These symptoms usually disappear on their own within a few weeks.
Following initial infection, you may have no symptoms. The progression of disease varies widely among individuals. This state may last from a few months to more than 10 years.
During this period, the virus continues to multiply actively and infects and kills the cells of the immune system. The immune system allows us to fight against the bacteria, viruses, and other infectious causes.
The virus destroys the cells that are the primary infection fighters, called CD4+ or T4 cells.
Once the immune system weakens, a person infected with HIV can develop the following symptoms:
Mouth, genital, or anal sores from herpes infections.
AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. The definition of AIDS includes all HIV-infected people who have fewer than 200 CD4+ cells per microliter of blood. The definition also includes 26 conditions that are common in advanced HIV disease but that rarely occur in healthy people. Most of these conditions are infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and other organisms. Opportunistic infections are common in people with AIDS. Nearly every organ system is affected. Some of the common symptoms include the following:
Cough and shortness of breath
Seizures and lack of coordination
Difficult or painful swallowing
Mental symptoms such as confusion and forgetfulness
People with AIDS are prone to develop various cancers such as Kaposi sarcoma, cervical cancer, and cancers of the immune system known as lymphomas. Kaposi sarcoma causes round, brown, reddish or purple spots that develop in the skin or in the mouth. After the diagnosis of AIDS is made, the average survival time has been estimated to be 2-3 years.
Author: Sat Sharma, MD, FRCPC, FCCP, Program Director, Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Divisions of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Manitoba; Site Coordinator of Respiratory Medicine, St Boniface General Hospital.
Editors: Ruben Olmedo, MD, Chief, Division of Toxicology, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Mount Sinai Medical Center; Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD, Senior Pharmacy Editor, eMedicine; Ron Fuerst, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of South Carolina College of Medicine; Director, Children's Emergency Center, Children's Hospital of Richland Memorial Hospital.