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Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a retrovirus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). It is an incurable disease that leads to progressive failure of the immune system. With a failed immune system, it leaves you weak and susceptible to other illnesses like pneumonia or cancer.
Signs and symptoms of HIV depend on the stage of infection, and can range from flu-like symptoms early on, to depression, weight loss and fatigue if left untreated.
Early treatment allows HIV patients to lead a normal life. If you have had unprotected sex with a partner who could have HIV, you should get tested. You can use a home HIV test or visit your local doctor.
HIV progresses in three distinct phases, each with very different symptoms:
1. Acute Infection - When an individual is first infected with HIV, they can experience an acute flu-like illness. The HIV virus is most contagious during this phase.
2. Clinical Latency - After this, the infection becomes asymptomatic for many years (up to ten) while it replicates within the lymph nodes and begins to attack the immune system.
3. Late Stage - After the immune system is sufficiently weakened, you may start to experience some constitutional symptoms (such as fatigue, weight loss and night sweats) that affect your body as a whole, rather than individual organs.
Within 4-6 weeks of HIV entering the body, 80% of people will experience a short, flu-like illness called acute retroviral syndrome (ARS). This is your immune system putting up an initial fight against the virus and it can last for up to a month.
Read more about the early symptoms of HIV.
An important symptom of HIV is a dark skin rash that may develop on the face, hands, feet and/or torso. Learn more about HIV rash.
After the acute illness has passed, HIV often doesn't cause any major symptoms for the following 10 years or longer.
You may feel perfectly healthy, with slightly swollen lymph nodes (glands) being one of the only signs of HIV during this stage of the infection.
As HIV advances into its later stages, your body's immune system is weakened and you may start experiencing other infections, which may result in the following symptoms:
HIV wasting syndrome is a common sign of HIV, particularly in cases of an advanced HIV infection. It is diagnosed if someone has unintentionally lost more than 10% of their body weight.
This occurs due to:
Loss of appetite due to nausea
Low dietary intake caused by ulcers of the mouth or oesophagus which make eating difficult
Losing nutrients through diarrhoea, vomiting or poor absorption of nutrients in the intestine
A persistent dry cough that gets worse over time and doesn't respond to benadryl, antibiotics or inhalers can be the sign of a late-stage HIV infection.
A cough or shortness of breath could be a sign of bacterial pneumonia or pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP).
Symptoms of bacteria pneumonia:
Symptoms of PCP:
50% of HIV positive people experience 'night sweats' that are not related to either exercise or room temperature.
HIV-related night sweats occur primarily when sleeping, and can soak through bedclothes, sheets and blankets.
Patients with advanced HIV viruses will be more susceptible to fungal infections. Look out for:
A common symptom of HIV, particularly a late-stage HIV infection, is thrush in the mouth or throat. Symptoms of oral thrush are:
Cognitive malfunctions could hint at HIV-related dementia which usually occurs later on, after the HIV virus has progressed.
Also be aware of:
The HIV virus can cause numbness and tingling of the hands and feet, also known as peripheral neuropathy.
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are:
If you start to notice any possible HIV symptoms you should get yourself tested at once. There is currently no known cure for HIV, but HIV can very effectively be treated with retroviral medication.
HIV tests are available from:
If you don't feel comfortable getting tested face-to-face, you can order a HIV testing-kit from our website. You can take a tiny blood sample from home and post it to our lab. We'll have your result within 2 days of your sample reaching the lab.
You can complete one of our online assessments at any time, whenever it suits you. It’s as easy as 1,2,3.
We want to make it easier and more affordable for you to access the healthcare you need.
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