Within two to four weeks after contracting HIV, many people experience flu-like symptoms as the body responds to infection. This is referred to as acute retroviral syndrome (ARS) or primary HIV infection. Symptoms, which can last for several weeks, can include fever, sore throat, swollen glands, mouth sores, various rashes, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, and muscle and joint pain. These symptoms can be confused with many other conditions, such as infectious mononucleosis. During this very early period, some tests that look for antibodies may not yet detect HIV in the body. People at this stage are very contagious, even if they show no symptoms, because the levels of HIV in their blood are extremely high. Eventually, the immune system brings the HIV level down and the infection moves into what’s known as the clinical latency stage (also called asymptomatic HIV infection or chronic HIV infection). HIV is still active but regenerating at low levels and generally causing no HIV-related symptoms, though people at this stage can still transmit the virus to others. People who don’t take any anti-retroviral medication may go 10 years, on average, without experiencing any symptoms from their infection and before their HIV advances to AIDS. But once the immune system becomes severely compromised, the final stage of HIV infection occurs — when opportunistic illnesses or specific cancers develop.
AIDS symptoms can include:
- Sudden weight loss
- Recurring fever
- Night sweats
- Fatigue and weakness
- Swollen lymph glands
- Chronic diarrhea
- Sores in the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Blotches on the skin, under the skin, or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
- Neurological issues, including memory loss and depression
- Some of these symptoms may be the result of an opportunistic infection the body can’t effectively fight.
But treatment with HIV medicines, known as anti-retroviral therapy or ART, can keep the virus from multiplying, extending the clinical latency state for several decades and slowing the progression of HIV to AIDS.