The signs and symptoms of HIV differ from person to person. Some people may experience symptoms immediately after contracting HIV, and some may not experience symptoms for decades.
HIV.gov estimates that around 1.2 million people in the United States are currently living with HIV. About 13% of these individuals do not know they have it.
Even if they are not experiencing symptoms, regular HIV testing is crucial for people with a high likelihood of contracting HIV. After testing and diagnosis, people living with HIV can receive effective treatment and lead healthy lives.
Keep reading to learn more about recognizing the early signs and symptoms of HIV.
Some people with HIV will experience early symptoms in as little as 2–4 weeks. These symptoms occur as the body’s immune system works to attack the virus, and they typically last from days to weeks.
Some of these symptoms may include:
- ulcers in the mouth
- sore throat
- swollen lymph nodes or glands
- aching muscles
- night sweats
Of course, these symptoms
Most people who do not receive treatment experience three different stages of HIV. However, with modern HIV treatment, it is less common for people to experience the final, most severe stage.
Acute HIV infection
Acute HIV infection is the first stage. It generally begins about 2–4 weeks after contracting HIV.
During this time, people with HIV have many viral particles circling through their bloodstream. This makes it easier for the virus to spread to other people.
People experiencing acute HIV infection may experience the flu-like symptoms listed above. Anyone who thinks they may have experienced exposure to HIV should seek testing, as early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent progression to the next stage.
Chronic HIV infection
Unlike acute HIV infection, the second stage is chronic and can last for decades.
People in this second stage may not experience any symptoms for years. The characteristics of chronic HIV infection
- a low level of viral particles in the body replicating at a slow rate
- a decrease in the number of certain immune cells in the body
- the ability to spread HIV
A person with a chronic HIV infection might have fewer symptoms than someone in the acute stage, but people in the chronic stage can still pass the virus to others. Testing, diagnosis, and treatment can keep people from progressing to the final stage of HIV.
Some symptoms people with AIDS may experience include:
- quick, significant weight loss
- sores in different areas of the body
- chronic diarrhea
- an ongoing cough
- regular, severe infections
Most people who receive treatment never progress to the final stage. With regular testing and proper care, people with HIV can lead full, healthy lives.
The first report of what came to be known as HIV and AIDS discussed two gay men who died of AIDS in 1981. Throughout the 1980s, AIDS became known as an illness associated with people in the LGBTQIA+ community.
However, researchers now recognize that HIV can affect people of any age, background, or community. Certain experiences can increase the chances of contracting HIV. These may include:
- exposure to or sharing of a contaminated needles and IV drugs
- transfusions with HIV-positive blood
- engaging in unprotected vaginal or anal sex
- a pregnant person passing HIV infection to their child
- exchanging intercourse for money or drugs
- having another sexually transmitted infection, such as syphillis
Fortunately, people with HIV
There are three main tests for detecting HIV. These tests can detect if a person has HIV about
Nucleic acid testing
Nucleic acid tests find HIV particles in the blood. These tests can detect if a person has HIV within
However, nucleic acid tests are expensive. Medical practitioners generally perform these tests for individuals with a high likelihood of exposure or people showing signs of acute HIV infection.
Antigen or antibody testing
Antigens are external substances, like virus particles, that enter the body and activate the immune system. Antibodies are the particles the immune system produces to fight infections. This form of testing detects both antigens and antibodies.
Antigen and antibody tests use a finger prick to find signs that a person has HIV. These tests can detect HIV about 18–90 days after initial exposure.
The final type of test looks for antibodies in the blood. Antibody tests can detect if a person has HIV from around
For these tests, medical workers can use blood from the veins, a finger prick, or oral fluid.
No one test is right for every individual. People with a high chance of contracting HIV should speak with a doctor to determine which test to take at a given time.
In 2012, the
This medication can help prevent people from developing HIV infection. Taking the pill once per day reduces the chance of getting HIV during sexual intercourse by about 99%. PrEP is also newly available as an injectable, which a person receives every 2 months.
Anyone with a high likelihood of contracting HIV should talk with a doctor about whether PrEP is right for them.
Other ways to prevent HIV exposure include:
- using condoms during sex
- ensuring that all needles are new and clean before any form of injection
- taking HIV medication while pregnant to avoid newborn HIV infection
Pregnant persons who are HIV-positive should seek medical care early in their pregnancy to receive treatment that can prevent transmission to the fetus.
Finally, individuals who believe they have experienced exposure to HIV should speak with a doctor about
Taking PEP within 72 hours of exposure can diminish the chance of developing HIV. Individuals should speak with a doctor immediately following an exposure event to maximize PEP’s effectiveness.
Receiving an HIV diagnosis can feel overwhelming. But there are many treatment options available today for people living with HIV.
According to a
Today, many people with HIV who receive care can experience a similar lifespan to those without HIV. Paying attention to early signs and symptoms and getting tested regularly are important steps on this journey.
People who suspect they have had an HIV exposure event should contact a doctor as soon as possible.
Anyone experiencing early symptoms of HIV should also consult with a medical practitioner. Early diagnosis and treatment is a crucial step towards long-term health.
Early signs of HIV vary, and not every person with HIV will experience them. The symptoms of HIV become more severe in the later stages of infection.
People who suspect they have experienced exposure to HIV should get tested immediately. A quick diagnosis is an essential step towards effective treatment.
With the right care and treatment regimen, people living with HIV can lead full and healthy lives.