Symptoms of HIV

Not everyone who has HIV will experience symptoms in the first few months, but when they do occur they most commonly include fever, sore throat and body rash. Further signs of HIV include tiredness, swollen glands, joint or muscle pain, nausea and diarrhoea. These symptoms are, of course, extremely common in various, less severe infections and illnesses. Therefore, the only way to be completely certain of your HIV status is to get tested.

Many people who contract the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) will experience flu-like symptoms during the first few weeks of their infection. This signals that the immune system has recognised a problem and is putting up a fight against a new infection. These symptoms usually occur between two and six weeks after transmission and can last for up to a month.

Early diagnosis allows the infection to be managed and monitored, so that the person receives the care that is most appropriate to them. With the correct supervision, HIV is no longer the life-threatening illness it once was. 

An HIV test should be considered if one or more of the following applies:

  • You have recently had unprotected sex (without a condom) with one or more new partners
  • You or your partner have had unprotected sex with other people
  • You have had protected sex with someone of unknown HIV status
  • You or your partner have another sexually transmitted infection or disease
  • You have shared needles or injecting equipment
  • You have received a tattoo or piercing without a sterile needle
  • You are pregnant or are planning a pregnancy
  • A sexual partner tells you they are HIV positive
  • There is any chance that an exchange of bodily fluids may have taken place with someone who is, or may be, HIV positive

Long-term signs and symptoms

Though it may take longer to get over colds and other illnesses, an untreated HIV positive person can look and feel fine for the first few years of an infection. This period can last around 8 to 10 years without treatment, but it can be much longer if the appropriate treatment is followed.

After the initial phase, there follows a longer period involving fewer symptoms. This is often referred to as the ‘asymptomatic stage’. It is during this time that the virus attacks the immune system, causing a drop in the CD4 cell count. CD4 plays a key role in combatting illness and disease, by sending a signal to other cells in the body about foreign infections that need to be destroyed. As the CD4 count reduces and the immune system weakens, the person may begin to experience signs of other illnesses.

This is likely to be a sign that the person may have entered the third, ‘symptomatic stage’. During this stage, owing to such a weakened immune syste, infections such as TB and pneumonia become far more likely. Indications of other illnesses can include swollen glands, night sweats, tiredness, sudden weight loss, diarrhoea, and an increase in the frequency of cold sore outbreaks.

It is during this stage that an immune system becomes unable to cope and other infections begin to occur. These other infections may be AIDS defining illnesses, leading a patient to be diagnosed with AIDS. However, if a patient receives the appropriate treatment early enough, they will not go on to develop AIDS.

As mentioned, these symptoms can occur in people who do not have HIV. Therefore, the only way to be sure of your status is to get yourself tested, regardless of whether you have any symptoms or not. Remember, where HIV is concerned, it is always Better2Know.