What are the early signs and symptoms of HIV?
If a person receives treatment for HIV after early diagnosis, they are less likely to develop more severe complications.
The annual number of new HIV diagnoses declined by 10 percent between 2010 and 2014 in the United States. In 2016, a total of 39,782 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with HIV.
- HIV will often not show symptoms in the early stages.
- Symptoms differ between sexes if they do appear.
- If HIV viruses cannot be detected, they are too low in number to be passed on.
- It is possible to treat HIV and have a good quality of life.
Only some people experience the early symptoms of HIV, but early diagnosis is the key to preventing a serious health problem.
A person should never rely on symptoms alone to tell whether they have HIV. The only way a person can know for sure is to receive testing.
It is vital for people to know their HIV status, as this can help them receive treatment and prevent transmission 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 a subtype of a group of cells known as T-cells. T-cells help the body fight off infections.
If left untreated, HIV reduces the number of CD4 cells in the body, making the person more likely to get infections. A person with HIV is also more likely to get cancers related to stage 3 HIV.
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 males and females?
HIV infection is different between the sexes. 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 females who have HIV.
After the early stage
After the early stage of HIV infection, the virus moves into a stage called the clinical latency stage. This can also be referred to as chronic HIV. 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 case 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.
HIV can only spread when it is detectable.
HIV is contagious and can be transmitted between people in a number of ways.
According to the CDC, the most common way HIV is transmitted is through sexual contact without a condom. It can also spread through the use of needles or syringes in intravenous drug use and tattoos.
HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids that contain the virus. 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 person when these 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 transmit the condition to her infant during pregnancy, although this is not always the case. Many women who live with HIV can give birth to HIV-negative infants through receiving the appropriate prenatal care and taking ART.
The World Health Organization (WHO) state that without any medical involvement, transmission rates from mother to baby range from 15 to 45 percent. If the virus is treated during and after pregnancy, these rates can fall to below 5 percent.
When are people contagious?
In the early stage of the HIV transmission, a high amount of the virus is present in the blood and semen. A person living with HIV is considered to be highly 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, an HIV-positive person shows fewer symptoms. However, they are still able to pass on the virus to another person.
According to the CDC, if a person in the clinical latency stage of HIV who is undergoing antiretroviral therapy manages to maintain a viral load under 200 copies per milliliter (copies/ml), it is virtually impossible to transmit HIV to another person. This is because the treatment suppresses the virus, leaving a low presence of HIV in their blood.
When HIV cannot be detected, it cannot be transmitted.
If a person believes that they may have been exposed to HIV, they should be tested right away. Regular testing is also a good idea for other people who have no reason to believe they have the virus.
Early diagnosis of HIV is crucial for preventing other, potentially life-threatening health conditions. Once diagnosed, there are treatments available for this manageable health condition.
Early diagnosis is also vital for helping prevent the spread of HIV. If a person knows they are HIV-positive, they can take steps to prevent transmission to others.
Progressing to stage 3 HIV
Night sweats can be a sign that HIV is progressing.
If a person who has HIV infection does not receive treatment, the condition may eventually progress to stage 3 HIV, also known as AIDS. In light of modern medical advances, it is rare that HIV infection reaches stage 3.
Stage 3 HIV itself is not a transmission but a syndrome, or a range of identifiable, wide-ranging symptoms. The symptoms can also be related to other illnesses that occur because of opportunistic infections taking advantage of reduced immune activity.
- 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 neurological disorders
By recognizing the early signs of an HIV transmission and seeking treatment early on, it continues to be possible to stop HIV reaching stage 3.
When treatment is managed correctly, a person who has HIV can live a long, happy, healthy life.