While many illnesses are easily recognised by their symptoms, HIV
can be difficult to spot. Not everyone with HIV will experience the same symptoms. In fact, the symptoms vary significantly between patients and they also depend on the stage of the infection.
It is useful to know which symptoms can indicate a HIV infection but you can’t rely on symptoms alone. If you think you could have HIV, you need to get tested.
Which early symptoms of HIV are there?
HIV can be a tricky infection to spot - this is why people who are HIV positive often don’t know that they are infected. However, there are some signs and symptoms to watch out for. In many patients, HIV causes flu-like symptoms within a few weeks after they have caught the virus.
Early HIV symptoms can include:
- fever and chills
- sore throat
- mouth ulcers
- swollen glands
- muscle pain
- joint aches
- skin rash
These symptoms tend to occur during a stage called seroconversion (the time when the virus becomes detectable in your blood). These symptoms are extremely common and might simply be caused by a flu virus, so they do not necessarily mean that you have HIV. However, if you have any doubt with regards to your HIV status, it is important that you get tested, not only to ensure you get the treatment you require, but also to prevent you from passing the virus on to other people.
One of the tell-tale signs of HIV is the HIV rash
, which also tends to appear within a few weeks after the infection.
Stages of HIV
HIV progresses in certain stages. Each stage can cause different symptoms.
The acute retroviral or seroconversion syndrome can occur days to several weeks after infection. During this time, typical early symptoms of HIV may occur. This includes fever, rash and flu-like symptoms.
After seroconversion, there may be a long period where patients do not necessarily experience any symptoms. This stage may last up to ten years. Some patients notice swollen glands during this time.
Eventually, an HIV infection will progress to AIDS, especially if it is not treated with antiviral medication. AIDS occurs when the HIV virus has weakened your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to other infections. AIDS can give rise to various symptoms depending on which infections are present. They can range from weight loss and exhaustion to dry cough and a high fever.
Assumption: If I had HIV, I would have symptoms.
Truth: Not necessarily - many people don’t know that they have been infected. Not everyone gets symptoms and the early symptoms of HIV can easily be mistaken for the flu. If you could have caught HIV, get tested!
Assumption: HIV and AIDS cause the same symptoms.
Truth: Being HIV positive does not mean that you have AIDS. AIDS is a syndrome which occurs during the late stages of the disease. It causes severe symptoms. HIV, however, can be controlled with medication, so that patients with HIV can live without suffering symptoms. Early treatment of HIV can prevent AIDS.
Assumption: If I had HIV symptoms, I would notice them.
Truth: The early symptoms of HIV can easily be mistaken for a common flu or an allergic reaction, especially because they go away without treatment. Many patients do not identify their symptoms as signs of HIV.
Assumption: I can’t catch HIV from someone who has no symptoms.
Truth: Once someone has been infected with HIV there will always be a risk that they pass it on to a sexual partner. This is true regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms or not. Antiretroviral treatment controls the virus and greatly reduces the risk of transmission.