First Stage: Acute HIV Infection
Most people don't know right away when they've been infected with HIV, but a short time later, they may have symptoms. This is when your body's immune system puts up a fight, typically within 2 to 6 weeks after you've gotten the virus. It's called acute retroviral syndrome or primary HIV infection.
The symptoms are similar to those of other viral illnesses, and they're often compared to the flu. They typically last a week or two and then completely go away. They include:
- Aching muscles
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A red rash that doesn't itch, usually on your torso
If you have symptoms like these and might have been exposed to someone with HIV in the past 2-6 weeks, you should go to a doctor and ask that you get an HIV test, even if you have had a negative test in the past. You may be shocked to learn that you have HIV, but fortunately, a combination, or "cocktail," of medications (called HIV drugs, or antiretroviral therapy) can help fight HIV, keep your immune system healthy, and prevent spreading the virus to others. If you take these medications and have healthy habits, your HIV infection will likely not progress further.
Second Stage: Chronic HIV Infection
After your immune system loses the battle with HIV, the flu-like symptoms will go away. Doctors may call this the asymptomatic or clinical latent period. Most people don't have symptoms you can see or feel. You may not realize you're infected and can pass HIV on to others. This stage can last 10 years or more.
During this time, untreated HIV will be killing CD4 T-cells and destroying your immune system. Your doctor can check how many you have with blood tests ( normal number of CD4 cells iscounts are between 450 and 1,400 cells per microliter). But without treatment, the number of CD4 cells willAs the number drops, and you will vulnerable to other infections.
The key is not to let this phase go on for long. Fortunately, if you start HIV drugs during this phase, they willa combination, or "cocktail," of medications can help fight HIV, rebuild your immune system, and prevent spreading the virus. If you're takeing your medications, keep your doctor appointments, and have healthy habits, you should be able to lead a healthy life.
Third Stage: AIDS
AIDS is the advanced stage of HIV infection. This is usually when your CD4 T-cell number drops below 200. You can also be diagnosed with AIDS if you have an "AIDS defining illness" such as Kaposi's sarcoma (a form of skin cancer) or pneumocystis pneumonia (a lung disease).
If you didn't know you were infected with HIV earlier, you may realize it after you have some of these symptoms:
- Being tired all of the time
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck or groin
- Fever that lasts for more than 10 days
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
- Purplish spots on your skin that don't go away
- Shortness of breath
- Severe, long-lasting diarrhea
- Yeast infections in your mouth, throat, or vagina
- Bruises or bleeding you can't explain
People with AIDS who don't take medication only survive about 3 years, even less if they get a dangerous infection. But HIV can still be treated at this stage. If you start on HIV drugs, stay on them, follow your doctor’s advice regarding other conditions you may have, and haveBut with the right treatment and a healthy lifestyle, you can live a long time.