Symptoms of HIV

Symptoms of HIV can often be mistaken for a simple flu, at least in its early stages. Discover its main clinical manifestations.
Symptoms of HIV

Last update: 28 July, 2021

According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV / AIDS (UNAIDS) for 2020 it was estimated that 37.6 million people were living with HIV infection. The prognosis and evolution of the disease are conditioned by early diagnosis and treatment, and so being aware of the symptoms of HIV is important in order to avoid future complications.

Currently, the infection can be treated to the point that patients never develop AIDS (the last stage of the disease). Let’s have a look at the most frequent clinical manifestations of this STD and in what context you should seek medical assistance.

What are the main symptoms of HIV?

HIV infection produces different symptoms in each person. In this sense, specialists use a three-stage categorization to determine the stage of the infection process. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the stages of HIV are as follows:

First stage

Symptoms of HIV are varied
Sometimes, it’s difficult to diagnose HIV in its early stages because its symptoms resemble a simple respiratory condition.

Also known as acute HIV infection, it usually begins two to four weeks after infection. This phase is characterized by a rapid increase in the virus in the body, which attacks CD4 + lymphocytes. As the blood concentration is very high, during this stage, the risk of transmission is also very high. The symptoms of HIV in this phase are the following:

  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Throat pain
  • Muscle and joint discomfort
  • Night sweats
  • The appearance of ulcers in the mouth
  • Swollen lymph nodes

As you can see, the initial development is similar to that of the flu. It isn’t uncommon for patients to not show any signs, or for these to be very mild and go unnoticed. Symptoms occur as a natural response of the body to an infection. Prognoses improve if treatment is started during this stage.

Some researchers distinguish a stage prior to this, called acute retroviral syndrome. In practice, however, many prefer to combine it with the first phase.

Second stage

We also know this as chronic HIV infection or latent stage. It’s characterized by the virus starting to multiply in the body, but in lower intensities compared to the previous one. In general, the patient doesn’t develop any symptoms associated with HIV, although this doesn’t mean that the disease has been controlled. Without proper treatment, it can lead to full-blown AIDS, the last stage of infection.

According to Michigan Medicine, the CD4 + cell count is between 200 and 499 per microliter. In comparison, during the previous phase, it’s higher than 500. Despite the absence of symptoms, some patients may develop swollen lymph nodes.

In children, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), episodes of chronic lung disease and symptomatic interstitial pneumonitis can occur.

Third stage

HIV symptoms stem from opportunistic infections
Opportunistic infections are one of the main causes of morbidity and mortality in the advanced stages of HIV. In these cases, lung disease is very common.

If the patient hasn’t received treatment around 10 years after developing the second stage, they will manifest what we know as HIV/AIDS, simplified as AIDS.

Acquired human immunodeficiency syndrome is characterized by the ongoing destruction of the immune system, exposing it to a variety of complications (in some cases, opportunistic infections).

Several different symptoms of HIV/AIDS can occur. Stanford Health Care highlights the following main ones.

  • Swollen lymph nodes for months
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased energy
  • Persistent yeast infections
  • Persistent skin rashes
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Recurring bouts of fever, sweats, and chills

People who reach this stage live between one and three years, according to the researchers. Keep in mind, however, that most patients who start treatment during the initial stage never reach this stage.

HIV complications and their symptoms

As a consequence of the third stage, those diagnosed are exposed to hundreds of opportunistic infections. The evidence shows the following to be the main ones:

  • Tuberculosis: With a prevalence of between 3% and 16% of cases. It manifests itself in the presence of the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which in certain contexts can also cause meningitis and urinary tract infections. It’s characterized by fatigue, weakness, fever, chronic cough, and night sweats.
  • Coccidioidomycosis: A lung infection caused by species of fungi. It’s more frequent in the warm regions of the American continent, and is characterized by fever, cough, and chest pain.
  • Cryptococcosis: It can affect the lungs in the form of pneumonia, and the central nervous system (meningitis), although it can also spread to other parts of the body. It’s caused by a fungus that enters through your mouth or nose.
  • Herpes simplex virus (HSV): This doesn’t usually cause major complications in the body, but it can manifest itself through sores on the lips, genitals, or anus.
  • Lymphoma: Cancer of the lymph nodes and other lymphoid tissues is relatively common in advanced stages of infection. Their relationship is not entirely clear, but research indicates that the risks of developing it far exceed the average among healthy patients. Fatigue, fever, and swollen lymph nodes are common symptoms.

Other complications associated with the later stages of HIV/AIDS include hepatitis B and C, human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis, bartonellosis, encephalitis, retinitis, pneumonia, salmonella septicemia, toxoplasmosis, and candidiasis, to name just the most. frequent.

Questions and answers about the symptoms of HIV

We’ll finish this article about the symptoms of HIV by answering some of the most frequent questions that come up regarding the disease.

Are the symptoms different for each gender?

Yes, women can experience ongoing vaginal infections, as well as irregular menstrual cycles, and other complications.

Can complications be prevented?

Yes, as long as you start treatment early, as Stanford Health Care points out. If you start the therapy during the initial stage, it’s very unlikely that you’ll develop AIDS, as this will prevent many of the complications that cause most deaths in diagnosed patients.

Can I travel to areas with endemic bacteria and viruses?

Yes, although you must be careful of the fact that you could expose yourself to an opportunistic infection. The CDC recommends learning about the medications and vaccines you may need, knowing the risks you’ll be subjected to, learning about prevention measures, and it also points out where you can go if you need medical help.

  • Grogg, K. L., Miller, R. F., & Dogan, A. HIV infection and lymphoma. Journal of clinical pathology. 2007; 60(12): 1365-1372.
  • Mohammadi-Moein, H. R., Maracy, M. R., & Tayeri, K. (2013). Life expectancy after HIV diagnosis based on data from the counseling center for behavioral diseases. Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. 2013; 18(12): 1040.
  • Vaillant, A. A. J., & Naik, R. HIV-1 associated opportunistic infections. StatPearls [Internet]. 2020.

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