HIV/AIDS: 9 First Symptoms of Infection

Updated in February 2022

HIV symptoms are very difficult to identify, and therefore, the best way to confirm a diagnosis is by completing HIV bloodwork in a medical setting. You should especially be tested if you engaged in risky behavior, like having unprotected sex or if you shared needles.

In some people, the first signs and symptoms emerge within weeks of the initial infection. Symptoms are similar to the flu, and can disappear spontaneously. Even if the symptoms do disappear, it does not mean the virus has resolved. It is common for the virus to go into remission within the body for many years.

You should do an HIV test any time you find yourself in a situation that puts you at risk for contracting the virus.

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The first symptoms of HIV infection

The first symptoms of HIV infection can occur about 2 weeks after coming in contact with the virus. Symptoms are very similar to the flu and can therefore can include:

  1. Headache
  2. Low grade fever
  3. Excessive fatigue
  4. Swollen lymph nodes
  5. Swollen throat
  6. Joint pain
  7. Ulcers or lesions in the mouth
  8. Night sweats
  9. Diarrhea

In some people, HIV does not cause any symptoms, and people can be asymptomatic for up to 10 years. However, just because there are no symptoms present, it does not mean the virus has resolved. It is actually a sign that the virus has silently multiplied, and that it has weakened the immune system, which is the precursor to AIDS.

Ideally, HIV should be diagnosed in its initial stage, before it develops into AIDS. In the early stages, the virus will still be in low concentrations within the body, which makes it easier to manage with medication and prevent it from developing. In addition, early diagnosis can prevent the virus from spreading to other people. Once HIV is confirmed, you should never have sex without condoms.

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Main symptoms of AIDS

After about 10 years with no symptoms, HIV can turn into an illness called AIDS. AIDS is characterized by a significant weakness of the immune system, and can cause symptoms like:

  1. Persistent high fever
  2. Frequent night sweats
  3. Red skin lesions called Kaposi’s sarcoma
  4. Difficulty breathing
  5. Persistent cough
  6. White spots on the tongue and in the month
  7. Lesions in the genital area
  8. Weight loss
  9. Memory loss

In this phase, it is common for the person to have frequent infections like tonsillitis, yeast infections and even pneumonia. A doctor may be led to consider HIV in a person who presents with frequent and reoccurring infections.

By the time HIV has developed into AIDS, it is more difficult to delay the progression of the illness with medication. Therefore, many patients with AIDS end up needing admission ot the hospital to prevent and/or treat upcoming infections.

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How AIDS is treated

AIDS is treated with a cocktail of medications that may include etravirine, tipranavir, tenofovir, lamivudine and efavirenz. Other medications may be used, depending on your health care provider's protocol.

These medications fight the cirus and also increase and strengthen your immune system cells. However, to ensure a therapeutic effect, you must comply with your doctor's prescription. Condom use is also necessary to prevent transmission to other people and to help control the AIDS epidemic.

Condom use is important even if you and your sexual partner are both infected with the AIDS virus. There are many types of HIV virus and you are at risk for infection each other with a new type, which will further complicate illness management.

Understanding AIDS

AIDS is an illness caused by HIV that debilitates the immune system, leaving a person with weak defenses. Individual infected with AIDS are at risk for catching other aggressive viruses that would otherwise be easy to fight off in a healthy person. After a virus enters the body, the defensive cells of the body will try to stop the virus, but when they are finally able to fight it off, the virus mutates. The body at this point requires other cells to stop the virus from multiplying.

When there is a low viral load of HIV in the body and a good quantity of defense cells, the patient will essentially be in an asymptomatic phase of the illness. This can last for about 10 years. When the body’s HIV viral load surpass the amount of available defense cells, signs or symptoms of AIDS will emerge. This is because the body has become weaker and is no longer able to contain illnesses, not even illnesses that should be relatively easy to combat. Therefore, the best way to treat AIDS is to prevent reinfection with HIV and to comply with the treatment plan indicated to you by your doctor.