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HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) Infection - Topic Overview

HIV may not cause symptoms early on. People who do have symptoms may mistake them for the flu or mono. Common early symptoms include:

Symptoms may appear from a few days to several weeks after a person is first infected. The early symptoms usually go away within 2 to 3 weeks.

After the early symptoms go away, an infected person may not have symptoms again for many years. After a certain point, symptoms reappear and then remain. These symptoms usually include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Extreme tiredness.
  • Weight loss.
  • Fever.
  • Night sweats.

A doctor may suspect HIV if symptoms last and no other cause can be found.

If you have been exposed to HIV, your immune system will make antibodies to try to destroy the virus. Doctors use tests to find these antibodies in urine, saliva, or blood.

If a test on urine or saliva shows that you are infected with HIV, you will probably have a blood test to confirm the results.

Most doctors use two blood tests, called the ELISA and the Western blot. If the ELISA is positive (meaning that HIV antibodies are found), a Western blot or other test will be done to be sure.

It may take as long as 6 months for HIV antibodies to show up in your blood. If you think you have been exposed to HIV but you test negative for it:

  • Get tested again. Tests at 6, 12, and 24 weeks can be done to be sure you are not infected.
  • Meanwhile, take steps to prevent the spread of the virus, in case you do have it.

You can get HIV testing in most doctors' offices, public health clinics, hospitals, and Planned Parenthood clinics. You can also buy a home HIV test kit in a drugstore or by mail order. Make sure it's one that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If a home test is positive, see a doctor to have the result confirmed and to find out what to do next.

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