Symptoms and Stages of HIV

 

HIV infection happens in three stages. Without treatment, it will get worse over time and eventually overwhelm your immune system.

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:

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.

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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:

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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jonathan E. Kaplan, MD on May 6, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

World Health Organization: "HIV Infection."

CDC: "HIV/AIDS."

AIDS.gov: "Stage of HIV Infection."

UNAIDS.

Betts, R. A Practical Approach to Infectious Diseases, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, fifth edition, 2005.

Heymann, D. Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, 18th edition.

American Public Health Association, Washington, D.C., 2004.

Lashley, F. Emerging Infectious Diseases: Trends and Issues, Springer Publishing, 2004.

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