When it comes to HIV transmission, it’s important to know what early symptoms to look for. Early detection of HIV can help ensure prompt treatment to control the virus and prevent progression into stage 3 HIV. Stage 3 HIV is more commonly known as AIDS.
Early treatment using antiretroviral drugs also makes the virus undetectable, which can prevent transmission to other people.
The early signs of HIV may appear as symptoms similar to those caused by the flu. These can include:
- swollen lymph nodes
- sore throat
- muscle and joint pain
- ulcers in the mouth
- ulcers on the genitals
- night sweats
Early HIV symptoms generally arise within one to two months after transmission, although they can arrive as soon as two weeks after exposure, according to HIV.gov. Moreover, some people may experience no early symptoms after they’ve contracted HIV. It’s important to remember that these early HIV symptoms are also associated with common illnesses and health conditions. To be sure of HIV status, consider talking with a healthcare provider about testing options.
The lack of symptoms can last for as long as 10 years. However, this doesn’t mean that the virus is gone. HIV is a manageable health condition. But left untreated, HIV can progress to stage 3 even if no symptoms are present. That’s why it’s so important to get tested.
Symptoms that indicate HIV may have progressed to stage 3 include:
- high fevers
- chills and night sweats
- breathing problems and persistent coughing
- severe weight loss
- white spots in the mouth
- genital sores
- regular fatigue
- memory problems
The first stage of HIV is known as acute or primary HIV infection. It’s also called acute retroviral syndrome. During this stage, most people experience common flu-like symptoms that may be hard to distinguish from a gastrointestinal or respiratory infection.
The next phase is the clinical latency stage. The virus becomes less active, though it’s still in the body. During this stage, people experience no symptoms while the viral infection progresses at very low levels. This period of latency can last a decade or longer. Many people show no symptoms of HIV during this entire 10-year period.
The final phase of HIV is stage 3. During this phase, the immune system is severely damaged and is vulnerable to opportunistic infections. Once HIV progresses into stage 3, symptoms associated with infections may become apparent. These symptoms can include:
Symptoms associated with HIV itself, such as cognitive impairment, can also become apparent.
HIV is transmittable soon after it’s introduced into the body. During this phase, the bloodstream contains higher levels of HIV, which makes it easy to transmit it to others.
Since not everyone has early symptoms of HIV, getting tested is the only way to know if the virus has been contracted. An early diagnosis also allows an HIV-positive person to begin treatment. Proper treatment can eliminate their risk of transmitting the virus to their sexual partners.
When it comes to HIV symptoms, remember that it’s not always HIV itself that makes people feel sick. Many HIV symptoms, particularly the most severe ones, arise from opportunistic infections.
The germs responsible for these infections are generally kept at bay in people who have an intact immune system. However, when the immune system is impaired, these germs can attack the body and cause illness. People who show no symptoms during early stage HIV may become symptomatic and begin to feel sick if the virus progresses.
HIV testing is important, since a person living with HIV who isn’t getting treatment can still transmit the virus, even if they have no symptoms. Others may contract the virus to others through an exchange of bodily fluids. However, today’s treatment can effectively eliminate the risk of transmitting the virus to a person’s HIV-negative sexual partners.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antiretroviral therapy can lead to viral suppression. When an HIV-positive person is able to maintain an undetectable viral load, they can’t transmit HIV to others. An undetectable viral load is defined by the CDC as fewer than 200 copies per milliliter (mL) of blood.
Taking an HIV test is the only way to determine whether the virus is in the body. There are known risk factors that increase a person’s chance of contracting HIV. For example, people who have had sex without a condom or shared needles may want to consider seeing their healthcare provider about getting tested.