HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is a virus that can lead to AIDS (Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV attacks the body’s immune system, our natural defense against pathogens, infections, and illnesses. The virus attacks and destroys CD4, a type of white blood cell also called the T-helper cell, that gives you an indication of the health of your immune system and leads the attack against infections or illnesses. So, the lower the CD4 cell count, the weaker the immune system. This means that people infected with HIV will find it harder to fight off infections and diseases without a proper treatment.
If this virus is left untreated, 10 to 15 years will be enough for the immune system to be so severely damaged that it can no longer defend itself at all. And eventually, opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of your weak immune system and signal that you have AIDS, which is the last stage and the most severe phase of HIV. However, the rate at which HIV progresses varies in people of different ages and their general health.
HIV AIDS is classified as an STD because it can get spread through sexual contact or through certain body fluids. Learn more about STDs here.
HIV symptoms vary in different persons. Some may not really feel any symptoms at all. But, with time, the infection becomes more severe and cause common changes.
When talking about HIV AIDS symptoms, we have to divide them into three stages of HIV infection. Usually, people who get through these three stages didn’t receive treatment. Being treated can slow or prevent progression from one stage to the next.
Three stages of HIV AIDS and their symptoms are as below:
First Stage: Acute HIV Infection
Usually, people aren’t aware of any symptoms which may indicate they have been infected with HIV. However, as the virus progresses over time, different HIV symptoms start to appear. The first stage of HIV occurs typically within 2 to 6 weeks after you have gotten infected. It’s called acute retroviral syndrome or primary HIV infection. Symptoms usually are flu-like symptoms that last a week or two, and then they go away completely. During this stage, the body is reacting to the virus and the immune system is trying to fight it off.
The symptoms accompanying this stage include:
Nausea and vomiting
Swollen lymph nodes
A red rash that doesn’t itch, usually on your torso
Remember that despite having those symptoms, that doesn’t automatically diagnose you with HIV. There are many illnesses that have the same symptoms. See a doctor or an HIV testing facility if you think you might be infected.
Second Stage: Chronic HIV Infection
After the first stage, the immune system gives up and your flu-like symptoms will go away and you will start to feel better. But, this doesn’t mean the virus is gone. Actually, once HIV gets into your body, it will never go away.
The second stage also known as Clinical latency (HIV inactivity or dormancy), is considered as the asymptomatic or clinical latent period because there is really no symptom to see or feel. This stage can last 10 years or more before other symptoms start to show up.
During this stage, the virus is still active and infecting CD4 T-cells cells. As the number of your CD4 cells drops, you become vulnerable to other infections and your immune system doesn’t have the capacity to fight them off. This indicates that your infection has gone from HIV to AIDS.
The good news is that there are medications that can help fight HIV, rebuild your immune system, and slow down or stop the progress of the virus.
HIV symptoms of the second stage include:
A persistent cough
Mouth and skin problems
Serious illnesses or diseases
Again, the above-mentioned symptoms can also be the indication of other illnesses and don’t necessarily mean you have HIV or AIDS. That’s why testing is always crucial.
Third Stage: AIDS
The last and the most severe stage of HIV infection is AIDS. When you reach this stage, your CD4 T-cell number drops below 200. If you didn’t know you were already infected with HIV, you may notice from the below-mentioned symptoms, characteristic for this stage:
Constant feeling of tiredness
Severe, long-lasting diarrhea
Swollen lymph nodes in your neck or groin
Unexplained weight loss
Bruises or bleeding you can’t explain
Fever that lasts for more than 10 days
Yeast infections in your mouth, throat, or vagina
Shortness of breath
Purplish spots on your skin that don’t go away
People diagnosed with HIV AIDS who don’t take the proper treatment and medication only survive about 3 years or less, in case they have a dangerous infection.
Fortunately, with the right treatment and a healthy lifestyle, you can fight your infection and live a long and a happy time.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article: text, graphics, images, and other materials contained are strictly for informational purposes only. The Content is NOT intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment. Please ALWAYS seek the advice of a qualified health provider with all the questions that you have related to, or about, a medical condition.