Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a sexually transmitted disease, with three typical stages of infection – acute infection, chronic infection, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Symptoms differ depending on the stage of infection.
Acute HIV Infection
The initial phase of acute HIV infection is when HIV is most infectious (1), even though many individuals are unaware that they have contracted HIV, as they do not display any symptoms, or only experience mild symptoms. Other people experience more serious symptoms within 2-4 weeks after infection, which can last for just a few days or for several weeks (2, 3). Symptoms can include:
- High fever
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Skin rashes
- Mouth ulcers
- Muscle aches
- Persistent coughing
- Night sweats
Chronic HIV Infection
The second stage of HIV infection can also be known as clinical latency or asymptomatic HIV infection. The virus is still multiplying during this stage, but only at very low levels, and many individuals do not show any symptoms. However, without HIV treatment, individuals in this stage can still transmit HIV (2).
HIV targets cells of the immune system reducing the ability to fight other infections and eventually progressing to AIDS (stage 3 of HIV infection) in untreated individuals (2). The symptoms of AIDS include:
- Rapid weight loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Skin discoloration
- Memory loss
- Increased susceptibility to other infections such as tuberculosis, severe bacterial infections, and certain cancers
How quickly does an HIV infection progress?
HIV progression can vary widely. Typically untreated HIV infections progress to AIDS in 8-10 years, but it can be shorter or longer for some people. Most of those with untreated AIDS only survive about three years, or less depending on opportunistic infections and cancers.
Nowadays, effective HIV medications, called antiretroviral therapy (ART), are available treat HIV. Although these medications do not cure the disease, they reduce the replication of HIV in the blood to an undetectable level. This enables infected individuals to live relatively normal lives and prevents the transmission of HIV (1).
(1) HIV/AIDS. World Health Organization. [Online] https://www.who.int/health-topics/hiv-aids/#tab=tab_2.
(2) Symptoms of HIV. Clinical Info HIV.gov. [Online] July 2020. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/symptoms-of-hiv.
(3) HIV Basics: About HIV. CDC, November 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/whatishiv.html