HIV is a virus that attacks a person's immune system. It can weaken the immune system to the point where a person's body struggles to fight infections and disease.
If left untreated, HIV can lead to the disease AIDS. AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. It occurs when a person's body can no longer fight life-threatening infections.
If a person receives treatment for HIV after an early diagnosis, they are less likely to develop AIDS.
The annual number of new HIV diagnoses declined by 19 percent between 2005 and 2014 in the United States. In 2015, a total of 39,513 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with HIV.
Early symptoms of HIV
A person should never rely on symptoms alone to tell whether they have HIV. The only way a person can know for sure whether they have HIV is to get tested.
Although symptoms should not be used solely to tell if someone has HIV, some symptoms may include night sweats, fatigue, fevers, and chills.
It is vital for people to know their HIV status, as this can help them receive treatment and prevent them from transmitting HIV to other people.
Different people experience different symptoms when they have HIV. The early stage symptoms include the following:
- fevers and chills
- night sweats
- muscle aches
- a sore throat
- general fatigue
- swollen lymph nodes
- mouth ulcers
Not all people will experience these symptoms.
HIV attacks the immune system. It specifically attacks the CD4 cells, which are also known as T cells. T cells help the body fight off infections.
If left untreated, HIV reduces the number of T cells in the body, making the person more likely to get other infections. A person with HIV is also more likely to get infection-related cancers.
If anyone thinks that they may have HIV, it is very important for them to go and get tested. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have a page on their website where people can find their nearest HIV testing center.
Do signs differ for men and women?
HIV is different in women and men. According to the Office on Women's Health, some health issues, including sexually transmitted infections and vaginal yeast infections, are more common and more serious in women who have HIV.
After the early stage
After the early stage of HIV, the virus moves into a stage called the clinical latency stage. This can also be referred to as chronic HIV infection. The virus is still active during this stage, but it reproduces at much lower rates in the body.
During the clinical latency stage of HIV, a person may not have any symptoms. Some people who are not taking any medicine to treat their infection may remain in this phase for 10 or more years. However, other people may progress past the latency stage more quickly.
A person who receives treatment for HIV can improve their chances of remaining in the clinical latency stage for several decades. The treatment is known as antiretroviral therapy, or ART. It helps keep the virus in check.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV may be contracted through infected fluids such as blood and semen.
HIV is contagious and can be transmitted between people. A person with HIV can pass the virus on to somebody else in a number of ways. According to the CDC, the most common way HIV is transmitted is through sexual contact, as well as needle or syringe use.
HIV is transmitted through infected bodily fluids. The only bodily fluids that can transmit HIV are:
- pre-seminal fluid
- rectal fluids
- vaginal fluids
- breast milk
HIV can be passed on to a healthy person when these infected fluids are injected directly into the bloodstream or come into contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue. Mucous membranes are found inside the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth.
A mother can also pass HIV on to her baby during pregnancy, although this is not always the case. The World Health Organization state that without any medical involvement, transmission rates from mother to baby range from 15 to 45 percent. If the virus is treated during pregnancy, these rates can fall to below 5 percent.
When are people contagious?
In the early stage of the HIV infection, a high amount of the virus is present in the blood and semen. A person with HIV is considered to be very contagious during this time. It is during this primary acute stage of HIV that the virus can be spread more efficiently than during the next stage.
During the clinical latency stage, a person with HIV shows fewer symptoms. However, they are still able to pass on the virus to another person.
According to the CDC, a person in the clinical latency stage of HIV who is taking antiretroviral therapy is much less likely to transmit HIV to another person. This is because the treatment suppresses the virus, leaving a low level of HIV in their blood.
When to get tested
If a person believes that they may have been exposed to HIV, they should get tested right away. It is also a good idea for other people, who have no reason to believe they have been exposed to the virus, to get tested regularly.
Early diagnosis of HIV is crucial in preventing health conditions that can be life threatening. Once diagnosed, there are treatments available to combat the impact of HIV on a person's health.
An early diagnosis is also vital for helping combat the spread of HIV. If a person knows they are HIV-positive, they can take the correct steps to prevent them from passing it on to others.
Progressing to AIDS
If a person has HIV and does not receive treatment, they may eventually progress to the late stage of the HIV infection, AIDS.
The symptoms of AIDS can also be related to other illnesses. Many of the more serious symptoms occur due to opportunistic infections. These are able to infect a person with AIDS due to their immune system being too severely damaged.
AIDS is the late stage of an HIV infection. Its symptoms can include unexplained tiredness, continual fevers, and rapid weight loss.
- rapid weight loss
- severe night sweats
- continual fevers
- extreme fatigue
- unexplained tiredness
- prolonged swelling of lymph glands in the groin, neck, or armpits
- bouts of diarrhea lasting longer than a week
- sores located near the mouth, genitals, or anus
- blotches on or under the skin
- blotches inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
- memory loss
- other neurologic disorders