When a person is first exposed to HIV, they may show no symptoms for several months or longer. Typically, however, they experience a flu-like illness that includes fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle aches and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and groin areas.This early illness is often followed by a “latency” phase where the virus is less active and no symptoms are present, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This latent period can last up to a decade or more.
People who become infected with HIV may not have any symptoms for up to 10 years, but they can still pass the infection to others. After you come in contact with the virus, it can take up to 3 months for a blood test to show that you have HIV.
Symptoms related to HIV are usually due to a different infection in the body. Some symptoms related to HIV infection include:
Frequent vaginal yeast infections
Mouth sores, including yeast infection (thrush)
Muscle stiffness or aching
Rashes of different types, including seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis
Swollen lymph glands
Note: Many people have no symptoms when they are diagnosed with HIV.
Diagnosis & Tests
Since HIV/AIDS can set off so many other illnesses, it may be difficult initially to pinpoint the source. Typically, however, these illnesses appear in clusters over a short period of time, cluing patients and doctors into the presence of the virus.
According to NIAID, two types of blood tests can confirm HIV/AIDS infection:
ELISA, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, which detects disease-fighting proteins called antibodies that are specific to HIV; and
Western blot, which detects antibodies that bind to specific HIV proteins
After someone is first infected it may take weeks or months for the immune system to produce enough detectable antibodies in an HIV blood test. Ironically, an infected person’s viral load may be very high during this time, making the infection exceptionally contagious.
Because of this, the CDC recommends routine HIV testing for all adolescents, adults and pregnant women, and advises that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should be tested at least once.
Conventional HIV/AIDS tests are sent to a laboratory for analysis and may take a week or more for results. A rapid HIV test is also available that offers results in about 20 minutes, but positive results from either type of test are confirmed with a second test.
Doctors usually recommend medicine for patients who are committed to taking all their medications and have a CD4 count below 500 cells/mm3 (which is a sign that of a weakened immune system). Some people, including pregnant women and people with kidney or neurological problems related to HIV, may need treatment regardless of their CD4 count.
It is extremely important for people with HIV to take all doses of their medications, otherwise the virus may become resistant to the drugs. Therapy always involves a combination of antiviral drugs. Pregnant women with HIV infection are treated to reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to their babies.
People with HIV infection need to become educated about the disease and treatment so that they can be active participants in making decisions with their health care provider.