Early Signs of HIV
Learn the early signs of HIV infection, such as headache, fever, and swollen lymph nodes, and what you need to know if you think you may have been infected.
Cause for Concern?
When it comes to HIV infection, it’s important to know what early symptoms to look for. Early detection of the infection can help ensure that you receive prompt treatment to control the virus, and possibly slow the progression into AIDS.
Click through the slideshow to learn what to watch for.
Depending on the phase of the infection, symptoms of HIV can vary. Initially, most people who contract the illness experience common flu-like symptoms that may be hard to distinguish from a more general flu or a gastrointestinal or respiratory infection. This first stage of HIV is known as acute or primary HIV infection. It’s also called acute retroviral syndrome (ARS).
A number of symptoms associated with the flu may be the first to arise as early signs of HIV. These include:
Early HIV symptoms generally arise within one to two months of being infected, although according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), they can arrive as early as two weeks after exposure, and as late as three months post-infection. However, some people experience no early symptoms after they have been infected with HIV (HHS, 2012).
Am I Contagious?
Though you may only have had the virus for a short while, you are highly contagious when you have primary HIV infection. During this phase, your bloodstream contains higher levels of HIV virus, which makes it easy to transmit the virus along to others. Since not everyone has early symptoms of HIV, it’s crucial to get tested for HIV if you think you may have been exposed to the virus.
When it comes to HIV symptoms, it’s important to remember that it’s not always the HIV virus itself that makes you feel sick. Many HIV symptoms—particularly the most severe ones—arise from what are called opportunistic infections.
These infections attack your immune system once it is damaged. Also, those who show no symptoms during early HIV infection may become symptomatic and begin to feel sick once they progress toward AIDS.
What Happens Next?
Primary HIV infection is followed by a chronic or latent phase, during which time the virus becomes less active though it’s still in your body. This period of latency can last a decade or longer. Many people show no symptoms of HIV infection during this entire 10-year period. However, once HIV becomes AIDS, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and fever may become apparent.
Though it can be nerve-racking to get tested for HIV, it’s important. Even if you have no visible symptoms during the early stages of HIV, you are still contagious and can easily infect others with the virus through an exchange of body fluids. Taking an HIV test is the only way to determine whether you have the disease.
So be smart, stay safe, and protect others. Talk to your doctor about getting tested if you have reason to suspect that you may have been infected with HIV.