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Symptoms of HIV

Signs and symptoms of HIV

People with HIV may have a short illness soon after getting the virus, but can then feel well for a long time. Most people will only notice further symptoms of HIV after a few years.

What is seroconversion illness?

Up to six weeks after getting HIV many people experience a short one or two week illness called a seroconversion illness.

It's a sign that their immune system is reacting to the presence of the virus in their body.

Seroconversion is also the point at which the body produces antibodies to HIV. Once seroconversion has happened, an HIV test will detect antibodies and give a positive result.

Seroconversion illness happens to most (but not all) recently infected people. It can be severe enough to put someone in hospital or so mild that it's mistaken for something like flu (although a blocked or runny nose is not usually a symptom).


The most common symptoms of seroconversion are:

  • sore throat
  • fever
  • rash over the body

These could be signs of a harmless infection but two or more of these together within six weeks of unprotected sex could be a sign that you now have HIV.

Some people with HIV never get a seroconversion illness. So whether you notice symptoms or not, if you've taken a risk you should seriously consider testing and definitely use condoms until you test.

If you do have HIV, your body fluids (blood, semen and vaginal or anal secretions) are highly infectious during the early weeks and months after you first became infected. However, once you're on effective treatment and your viral load becomes undetectable you cannot pass on HIV. It can take up to six months on treatment to become undetectable.


Why does it take so long to get symptoms of later HIV-related illnesses?

People with HIV usually look or feel well for a number of years. They're not likely to feel ill or notice any symptoms during the first few years of their infection.

All the same, over time the virus attacks their body, causing a drop in their CD4 cells (or T cells - blood cells that play a role in your body fighting off infections).

It can take many years for the level of CD4 cells to fall to a point at which illnesses are noticed.


What are the symptoms of later HIV-related illnesses?

As HIV weakens someone’s immune system and their CD4 count drops, they may experience signs of other illnesses:

  • weight loss
  • night sweats
  • thrush in the mouth
  • an increase in herpes or cold sore outbreaks
  • swollen glands in the groin, neck or armpit
  • long lasting diarrhoea
  • tiredness.

But remember, people who don’t have HIV can also get any of these; they can be the signs of other illnesses.

A weakened immune system may leave someone more open to serious infections such as:


What can effective HIV treatment do?

In a nutshell, HIV treatment keeps you healthy so you can live a normal lifespan, and can reduce your viral load to undetectable levels so you won't be able to pass on HIV. (Remember it can take up to six months from starting treatment to become undetectable, so it's important to test and start treatment on time.)

National guidelines recommend that everyone with HIV starts treatment when they're diagnosed, regardless of their CD4 count. This is because a study called START found that delaying treatment until your CD4 count drops to 350 - which is when people were previously advised to start treatment - led to a significantly higher chance of developing AIDS-related illnesses such as cancers.

Being on effective treatment should lead to your viral load becoming undetectable - which means you cannot pass on HIV.


What should I do if I think I could have HIV?

Only an HIV test can tell you whether you have HIV.

Try not to guess based on any symptoms you may or may not have. Try not to guess based on the HIV status of a person you have had sex with.

If you test, tell whoever tests you if you’ve recently taken risks or had symptoms similar to seroconversion illness, as this will affect the kind of HIV test you should have.

To be on the safe side, and until you know your test result, use condoms to protect anyone you have sex with.


Testing for HIV ››

‹‹ Back to: How HIV is transmitted

 

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2 comments

  • Hi I'm looking for the forum on hear and come across symptoms of hiv I'm just wondering if athletes foot is a symptom of hiv and if so at what stage would you get it .

    Posted 09:53 Tue 03 Jun 2014
  • Hi Braveheart. You can call THT Direct to get more detailed information about HIV symptoms. You can call THT Direct between 10am and 8pm from Monday to Friday on 0808 802 1221.

    Posted 12:06 Mon 09 Jun 2014

The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 24/8/2015 by T. Kelaart

Date due for the next review: 23/8/2018

Content Author: R. Scholey

Current Owner: Health promotion

More information:

HIV Transmission Risk Persists During the First 6 Months of Antiretroviral Therapy, Mujugira A1, Celum C, Coombs RW, Campbell JD, Ndase P, Ronald A, Were E, Bukusi EA, Mugo N, Kiarie J, Baeten JM; Partners PrEP Study Team
National Center for Biotechnology Information
US National Library of Medicine
2016 Aug 15;72(5):579-84. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001019

HIV treatment as prevention and HPTN 052, Cohen MS1, McCauley M, Gamble TR
National Center for Boiotechnology Information
US National Library of Medicine

NAM. Primary infection   

NAT. Primary HIV Infection: a policy report from the National AIDS Trust, July 2008 (2008)

NAM. Symptoms of HIV   

NAM. Many patients diagnosed with HIV today will have normal life expectancies, European studies find. (2010)  

NHS Choices. HIV and AIDS  2014


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