Symptoms of HIV infection
Symptoms of HIV infection
Within a month or two of HIV entering the body, 40% to 90% of people experience flu-like symptoms known as acute retro-viral syndrome (ARS). The flu-like symptoms are a sore throat, fever and body rash.
But sometimes HIV symptoms don’t appear for years—sometimes even a decade—after infection. Most HIV infections do not have any symptoms. A person infected with HIV can remain healthy and symptom-free for many years.
A person who infects their sexual partner with HIV while knowing his/her HIV status could be charged with murder, attempted murder or assault under South African law. The Draft Sexual Offences Bill makes the intentional non-disclosure of HIV/AIDS by a person to their sexual partner a criminal offence.
A person is diagnosed with AIDS when they have developed an AIDS related condition or symptom, called an opportunistic infection, or an AIDS related cancer. The infections are called ‘opportunistic’ because they take advantage of the opportunity offered by a weakened immune system.
It is possible for someone to be diagnosed with AIDS even if they have not developed an opportunistic infection. AIDS can be diagnosed when the number of immune system cells (CD 4 cells) in the blood of an HIV positive person drops below a certain level.
One of the first signs of acute retro-viral syndrome (ARS) can be a mild fever, up to about 102 degrees F.
The fever, if it occurs at all, is often accompanied by other usually mild symptoms, such as fatigue, swollen lymph glands, and a sore throat.
At this point the virus is moving into the blood stream and starting to replicate in large numbers
As that happens, there is an inflammatory reaction by the immune system.
The inflammatory response generated by your besieged immune system also can cause you to feel tired and lethargic. Fatigue can be both an early and later sign of HIV.
Achy muscles, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes
ARS (acute retro-viral syndrome) is often mistaken for the flu, mononucleosis, or another viral infection, even syphilis or hepatitis.
That’s not surprising: Many of the symptoms are the same, including pain in the joints and muscles and swollen lymph glands.
Lymph nodes are part of your body’s immune system and tend to get inflamed when there’s an infection. Many of them are located in your armpit, groin, and neck.
Sore throat and headache
As with other symptoms, sore throat and headache can often be recognized as ARS only in context.
If you’ve engaged recently in high-risk behavior, an HIV test is a good idea. Get tested for your own sake and for others: HIV is most infectious in the earliest stage.
Keep in mind that the body hasn’t produced antibodies to HIV yet so an antibody test may not pick it up. (It can take a few weeks to a few months for HIV antibodies to show in a blood test). Investigate other test options such as one that detects viral RNA, typically within nine days of infection.
Skin rashes can occur early or late in the course of HIV/AIDS.
Some can look like boils, with some itchy pink areas. The rashes can also appear on the trunk of the body. If [the rashes] aren’t easily explained or easily treated, you should think about having an HIV test.
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
Anywhere from 30% to 60% of people have short-term nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea in the early stages of HIV. These symptoms can also appear as a result of antiretroviral therapy and later in the infection, usually as the result of an opportunistic infection.
Diarrhoea that is unremitting and not responding at all to usual therapy might be an indication. Or symptoms may be caused by an organism not usually seen in people with healthy immune systems.
Once called “AIDS wasting,” weight loss is a sign of more advanced illness and could be due in part to severe diarrhoea.
If you’re already losing weight that means the immune system is usually fairly depleted. This is the patient who has lost a lot of weight even if they continue to eat as much as possible. This is late presentation. A person is considered to have wasting syndrome if they lose 10% or more of their body weight and have had diarrhoea or weakness and fever for more than 30 days.
This symptom—an insidious cough that could be going on for weeks that doesn’t seem to resolve, is typical in very ill HIV patients.
The cough and the weight loss may also presage a serious infection caused by a germ that wouldn’t bother you if your immune system was working properly.
There are many different opportunistic infections and each one can present differently, for example Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), aka “AIDS pneumonia,” which eventually can land you in the hospital.
Other opportunistic infections include Toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that affects the brain; a type of herpes virus called Cytomegalovirus; and yeast infections such as thrush.
About half of people get night sweats during the early stages of HIV infection. These can be even more common later in infection and aren’t related to exercise or the temperature of the room. Similar to the hot flashes that menopausal women suffer, they’re also hard to dismiss, given that they soak your bedclothes and sheets.
Another sign of late HIV infection are nail changes, such as clubbing (thickening and curving of the nails), splitting of the nails, or discoloration (black or brown lines going either vertically or horizontally).
Often this is due to a fungal infection, such as candida. Patients with depleted immune systems will be more susceptible to fungal infections.
Another fungal infection that’s common in later stages is thrush, a mouth infection caused by Candida, a type of yeast.
It’s a very common fungus and the one that causes yeast infections in women. They tend to appear in the mouth or esophagus, making it difficult to swallow.
Confusion or difficulty concentrating
Cognitive problems could be a sign of HIV-related dementia, which usually occurs late in the course of the disease.
In addition to confusion and difficulty concentrating, AIDS-related dementia might also involve memory problems and behavioral issues such as anger or irritability.
It may even include motor changes: becoming clumsy, lack of coordination, and problems with tasks requiring fine motor skills such as writing by hand.
If HIV leads to AIDS, serious symptoms can develop and can ultimately lead to death. Signs and symptoms may include everything from fever and rashes to lesions, soaking night sweats and blurred vision.
Kaposi’s sarcoma is a cancerous tumor of the connective tissue, and is often associated with AIDS. The cancer may also involve the skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs.The tumors most often appear as bluish-red or purple bumps on the skin. They are reddish-purple because they are rich in blood vessels.
The lesions may first appear on the feet or ankles, thighs, arms, hands, face, or any other part of the body. They also can appear on sites inside the body.
KS is considered an “AIDS defining” illness. This means that when KS occurs in someone infected with HIV, that person officially has AIDS (and is not just HIV-positive).
Note: You should not assume you have HIV just because you have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses. And some people who have HIV do not show any symptoms at all for 10 years or more.
You can do a self-test quiz – the STD Quiz, to learn more about your risk of contracting a STD.
For help, support, counselling or more information, you may also chat to a facilitator on LIVE CHAT. The service is free and you may stay anonymous.
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