More than 1 million people in the United States live with HIV. About 1 in 7 of those million have no idea that they have this virus.
One reason is that early symptoms of HIV, such as a fever, tiredness, and rash, are like symptoms of many other common infections, including the flu. Here’s what you should know about other conditions that may look like HIV at various stages.
It’s important to know that having a couple of symptoms that look like HIV doesn’t guarantee you have it.
But if there's a chance you could have HIV because you had unprotected sex or shared a needle with someone, the only way to know for sure is to get tested.
Conditions That Share Symptoms With Early HIV
HIV symptoms are different in the early and late stages of infection. The first symptoms appear within 2 to 4 weeks after infection, and they can include:
- A cold
- Influenza (the flu)
- Mononucleosis (mono)
- Strep throat
- Epstein-Barr virus
- Viral hepatitis
- Some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
A rash, like the one you may see in the early stage of HIV infection, could also have many possible causes, including:
After these symptoms improve, HIV goes into a stage where the virus is still in your body but you have no symptoms. This stage, chronic HIV infection, can last for up to 15 years.
Late-Stage HIV Symptoms
People who have HIV and don’t get treatment can eventually progress to a late-stage HIV infection. At this stage, it's called AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
By the late stage, your immune system is so weak that you can catch many infections. These infections are what cause many AIDS symptoms, such as fever, night sweats, extreme fatigue, and swollen glands. Some of these symptoms can also happen with other conditions.
A fever is usually a sign that your immune system is trying to fight an infection. Many other illnesses can cause you to have a fever. Some of them include:
- Viral and bacterial infections
- Rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases
- Some antibiotics, high blood pressure, and anti-seizure medications
Night sweats are extreme flashes of heat that soak you in sweat during the night. Besides late-stage HIV or AIDS, other conditions can cause these. Some of them include:
- Overactive thyroid gland
- Tuberculosis and other infections
- Cancers such as leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Extreme tiredness, also called fatigue, is an overall feeling of low energy. You might have an overwhelming desire to sleep outside of typical sleeping hours. This lack of energy is severe enough that it makes it hard for you to go about your day. Other conditions that can cause this include:
Like fever, swollen glands (or lymph nodes) are also a sign that your body is trying to fight infection. Other causes of persistent swollen glands in the armpits, neck, or groin include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Lymphoma, leukemia, and other cancers that have spread to the lymph nodes
- Syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections
Dropping weight fast without trying is usually a sign of some kind of medical problem. Doctors say that if you lose more than 5% of your body weight (so, if you weighed 180 pounds and then lost nine) within 6 months to a year, you should get it checked out.
Other causes of rapid weight loss could be:
Everybody gets diarrhea sometimes. When it lasts a couple of days to about a week, it may be a sign of an infection from a virus, a bacteria, or a parasite. When it lasts more than a week, it could be sign of a medical condition. Other causes of diarrhea that lasts for more than a week include:
- Celiac disease
- Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- Coxsackie virus
- Syphilis, genital herpes, and other sexually transmitted diseases
Other causes of red, brown, pink, or purple blotches on the skin:
- Atopic dermatitis, or eczema
- Contact dermatitis or allergic reaction
- Blood clotting disorders
- Abnormal blood vessels under the skin or a bleeding disorder
- Injuries to the skin
These are just some of the conditions that can look like late-stage HIV and AIDS. Symptoms alone can't confirm that you have HIV or rule out that you don't have it. The only way to know for sure is to get tested.
You can get an HIV test from your primary care doctor or at a clinic. There are different types of tests. Some can detect HIV in your body as early as 10 days after exposure. Others may take months to show a positive result.
If you think you might have HIV, see your doctor for advice. Your doctor can tell you whether you need to get tested and how soon.