The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection may go unnoticed, either because it is devoid of symptoms or shows only a mild, flu-like infection in the early stages. HIV patients may also feel sick for some time and then appear to have recovered completely. It is only when the HIV infection progresses to AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome), the patient develops life-threatening signs that are confirmed symptoms of HIV.
The dangerous symptoms of HIV are due to the opportunistic infection that occurs when the immune system becomes highly damaged due to the attack of the HIV.
The Symptoms Of HIV – Signs Seen During Each Stage Of The Disease
The signs and symptoms seen in HIV-infected individuals can be broadly divided into 3 categories based on the stage of the HIV infection.
Early Symptoms Of HIV
Two to four weeks (up to three months) after exposure to HIV, 40-90 percent of the individuals develop Acute Retroviral Syndrome (ARS). The symptoms of HIV that are caused by the body’s natural response against the virus include:
- Fever (102°F)
- Sore throat
- Rashes, which usually affect the face, neck, and the upper chest, and last for 5 to 8 days
- Muscle pain
- Nocturnal sweating
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or the groin
- Painful ulcers in the mouth
- Dry cough, which doesn’t go away for months, sometimes even for years
- Diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea, in 30-60 percent of the cases
In this phase, the symptoms are often mistaken for those of flu or hepatitis or any other viral infection. These symptoms usually disappear within a month. The viruses circulate in the blood during this period, multiplying in large numbers. The patient is highly infectious during this period and can transmit the virus to other susceptible individuals.
Symptoms Of HIV In The Latent Period
In this period, the virus is still present in the blood, but reproduces at very low levels. Also, many of the viruses remain latent (inactive). This period may typically last for a decade (10 years) or even longer, with no specific signs and symptoms. Some people have persistent swelling of the lymph nodes. This period increases rapidly in severity as the late stages of the disease approach i.e. after the latent stage.
Symptoms Of HIV When AIDS Has Set In
AIDS occurs as the last stage of the HIV infection and can be defined as a severe immunological disorder caused by the HIV. It results in a defect in the cell-mediated immune response. This manifests in the form of increased susceptibility to opportunistic infections and to certain rare cancers, especially Kaposi’s sarcoma.
Patients, at this stage suffer from:
- Gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea (lasting for more than a week), nausea, and vomiting
- Fever, chills, and nocturnal sweating
- Wasting syndrome (rapid weight loss)
HIV destroys the White Blood Cells (WBCs) that fight against any infections. This automatically lowers the infected individual’s immunity and he becomes susceptible to opportunistic infections, which is not the case with healthy individuals.
Some of the opportunistic infections that occur include:
- Pneumonia / AIDS pneumonia / Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia / Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP)
- Toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection of the brain
- Thrush, an infection caused by a yeast named Candida, which produces white patches that bleed easily, in slightly raised areas of the mouth
- CytoMegalo Virus (CMV) infection
- Fungal infection in the nails, causing thickening and curving of the nails, and splitting or discoloration of the nails
- Neurological problems such as confusion, difficulty in concentration, AIDS-related dementia, cognitive problems, memory problems, behavioural disability, anger and irritability, clumsiness, a lack of coordination, and tingling and weakness in the hands and feet
- Cold (mouth) sores / genital (anal or penile) sores caused by the Herpes virus
- Menstrual irregularities (such as fewer or lighter periods), which are related to poor health and weight loss
- Lymphoma, a form of cancer of the lymphoid tissue in the brain, and cancer of the soft tissues, Kaposi’s sarcoma
Some patients develop AIDS very slowly and some of them (non-progressors) never progress to this stage at all. Patients diagnosed with AIDS typically survive for about 3 years without treatment. They may even die within a year if they contract dangerous opportunistic infections.
If treatment is given during the early stages of the HIV infection, it helps halt its progression to AIDS and also helps prevent its transmission to others. 20 percent of people in the US are unaware that they are HIV positive. As the symptoms of HIV are unreliable in the early stages of the infection, undergoing an HIV test is the only way of getting a confirmation of the disease.