HIV is a virus that attacks the body's immune system, destroying a specific type of cell that helps the body fight off infections and diseases. In the United States, a higher number of men are living with the virus than women.

With effective treatment of antiretroviral medication, people with HIV can live healthy lives without the risk of transmitting the virus to others.

In this article, we look at the early signs and symptoms of HIV in men, along with when they should take a test to ensure they receive effective treatment.

15 early signs and symptoms of HIV in men

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Early symptoms of HIV in men are often vague and unspecific.

In men, initial HIV symptoms are typically unspecific. Early symptoms are usually bearable and frequently mistaken for flu or another mild condition. People may easily underestimate them or mistake them for minor health conditions.

Men can experience flu-like symptoms some days to weeks after contracting the virus, which may include:

Besides flu-like symptoms, some men may also experience more severe symptoms early on, such as:

Less common early HIV symptoms include:

  • ulcers in the mouth
  • ulcers on the genitals
  • night sweating
  • nausea or vomiting
  • sore muscles
  • pain in the joints
  • swollen lymph nodes

Men may undervalue initial symptoms and put off seeing a doctor until the symptoms worsen, by which time the infection might have advanced.

The fact that some men do not seek timely treatment may be why the virus affects men more severely than women.

How common is HIV in men and women?

Although scientists and researchers have made significant progress in the prevention and treatment of HIV over the last decades, it remains a serious health problem in most countries around the world.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2016, an estimated 39,782 people were diagnosed with HIV in the U.S.

Although the number of new diagnoses fell by 5 percent between 2011 and 2015, there were still around 1.1 million people in the U.S. living with HIV in 2015.

A higher number of men than women are living with the virus. By the end of 2010, 76 percent of all people with the virus in the U.S. were male. Most new diagnoses that year were also in men: approximately 38,000, which represents 80 percent of all new diagnoses.

Some groups of people are affected more by HIV than others. Among men, 70 percent of new diagnoses were a result of male-to-male sexual contact in 2014. A further 3 percent were associated with male-to-male sexual contact and injection drug use.

In 2016, 44 percent of new HIV diagnoses were among African Americans, compared with 26 percent among white people and 25 percent among Hispanics and Latinos.

Timeline of HIV

HIV progresses through three stages. Each stage has particular characteristics and symptoms.

Stage 1: Acute phase

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Flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, are common in the acute phase of HIV.

This stage usually occurs 2–4 weeks after transmission, and not every person will notice it.

Typical symptoms are similar to flu and may include fever, sickness, and chills. Some people do not realize that they have the virus because their symptoms are mild and they do not feel sick.

At this stage, a person will have a significant amount of virus in their bloodstream, which means that it is easy to pass it on. If a person thinks that they might have the virus, they should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Stage 2: Clinical latency

This stage can last for 10 years or more if the person does not seek treatment. It is marked by an absence of symptoms, which is why medical professionals may also refer to this phase as the asymptomatic phase.

At this stage, a medication called antiretroviral therapy (ART) can control the virus, meaning that HIV does not progress. It also means that people are less likely to transmit the virus to others.

While the virus is still reproducing in the bloodstream, it may do so at levels that healthcare professionals cannot detect. If someone has undetectable levels of the virus for at least 6 months, they cannot pass the virus to others via sex.

During this phase, HIV is still multiplying inside the body but at lower levels than in the acute phase.

Stage 3: AIDS

This is the most severe stage, during which the amount of virus in the body has devastated the body's population of immune cells. Typical symptoms of this stage include:

  • fever
  • sweat
  • chills
  • weight loss
  • weakness
  • swollen lymph nodes

At this stage, the immune system is very weakened. This allows opportunistic infections to invade the body.

In the United States, most people do not develop AIDS because they have undergone ART.

In rare cases, it is possible for the condition to progress to AIDS rapidly.

Diagnosis in men vs. women

Doctors diagnose HIV in both men and women by testing a blood or saliva sample, although they could also test a urine sample. This test looks for antibodies produced by the person to fight the virus. The test typically takes around 3 to 12 weeks to detect antibodies.

Another test looks for HIV antigens, which are substances that the virus produces immediately after transmission. These antigens cause the immune system to activate. HIV produces the p24 antigen in the body even before antibodies develop.

Usually, both the antibody and the antigen tests are done in labs, but there are also home tests that people can take.

Home tests may require a small sample of blood or saliva, and their results are quickly available. If the test is positive, it is essential to confirm the results with a doctor. If the test is negative, a person should repeat it after a few months to confirm the results.

How often should a man get tested?

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Sexually active men should get routine tests for HIV.

Men who are sexually active should get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime as part of their routine health care.

The CDC recommend that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should take an HIV test.

The CDC also recommend that people with specific risk factors should take a test at least once a year. This recommendation applies to gay and bisexual men, and men who have sex with men, and users of injectable drugs.

Besides these formal recommendations, everyone who may have been exposed to HIV or had sex without a condom should also take a test.

Outlook

HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system and leaves the body more prone to opportunistic diseases and infections.

Although there is no cure for HIV, medication can control it. People with the virus can live healthy lives with proper medical care and medication.

Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help slow the progression of the virus and significantly improve quality of life.

For men, being able to spot the early signs can help with getting a quick diagnosis.