Infection occurs when an organism, such as a virus or bacterium, invades the body. The infectious agent rapidly multiplies in the body’s tissues. Although not all infections result in disease, some can trigger the immune system, causing symptoms of illness.
There are five stages of infection:
This article will explain each of the five stages of infection in detail, describing how long they can last and giving examples of infections.
It will also highlight what the stages of infection are, specifically in people with HIV.
The incubation stage includes the time from exposure to an infectious agent until the onset of symptoms.
Viral or bacterial particles replicate during the incubation stage.
The exact time frame of the incubation stage varies depending on the infection. Here are a few examples:
The prodromal stage refers to the period after incubation and before the characteristic symptoms of infection occur.
People can also transmit infections during the prodromal stage.
During this stage, the infectious agent continues replicating, which triggers the body’s immune response and mild, nonspecific symptoms. These symptoms can include:
The duration of the prodromal stage varies depending on the type of infection.
For example, the flu has a short incubation period of about
The third stage of infection is an illness or clinical disease. This stage includes the time when a person shows apparent symptoms of an infectious disease.
The symptoms of infection vary widely depending on the underlying cause.
In general, people who have an active infection may experience:
The exact time frame varies depending on the type of infection, the number of infectious microbes in the body, and the strength of a person’s immune system. Here are some examples:
Symptoms can last up to a week for many viral respiratory infections, such as the flu.
The herpes simplex virus (HSV) and chickenpox (VZV) can hide in a dormant state within nerve cells. These viruses can stay in the body for many years before reactivating. If the VZV virus reactivates, it causes shingles.
Chickenpox symptoms usually last between
Herpes symptoms vary in their duration depending on the type of infection.
During the decline stage, the immune system mounts a successful defense against the pathogens, and the number of infectious particles decreases.
Symptoms will gradually improve.
However, a person can develop secondary infections during this stage if the primary infection has weakened their immune system.
During this stage, the virus can still transmit to other people.
The final stage of infection is known as convalescence.
During this stage, symptoms resolve, and a person can return to their normal functions.
Depending on the severity of the infection, some people may have permanent damage even after the infection resolves.
HIV damages the immune system. If left untreated, HIV progresses into AIDS. Exposure to HIV occurs when a person comes in contact with body fluids that contain HIV particles.
Stage 1: Acute HIV infection
These early stages of HIV infection are also known as acute HIV infection. HIV spreads throughout the body and attacks specialized white blood cells, called CD4+ T cells.
Stage 2: Chronic HIV infection
If left untreated, acute HIV infection progresses to chronic HIV, which can last for decades.
In chronic HIV, the virus continues to replicate and destroy CD4 cells. People may not experience symptoms at this stage. However, the absence of symptoms does not mean that the infection is gone.
Stage 3: AIDS
If a person with chronic HIV does not receive treatment, they can develop AIDS.
At this point, the virus has significantly weakened the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to other infections.
If AIDS is left untreated, a person typically survives for about
Infection typically occurs in five stages.
The incubation stage occurs right after exposure and before symptoms develop. This stage can range from hours for some infections to days, weeks, or even years for other infections.
The next stage is prodromal, which involves mild, nonspecific symptoms.
The decline stage occurs when the number of infectious microbes declines and symptoms resolve.
The final stage is convalescence. During this stage, symptoms disappear, and the body starts to recover.
HIV has three stages of infection: acute, chronic, and AIDS.