Understanding and Identifying HIV Symptoms

AIDS – or HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) as it’s more clinically known as – first arose in the 1980s. The way it was such a nearly-automatic death sentence back then made it a real buzzword among a society that was genuinely fearful of it. Back then many people took a very ignorant point of view on AIDS, and in particular they dismissed it as ‘gay cancer’ due to the fact that it was primary homosexual men who were acquiring AIDS.

HIV symptoms seen in these individuals were best described as them ‘wasting away’, with catastrophic weight and muscle mass loss and the loss of their immune system function meaning they were extremely susceptible to nearly every type of infection.

Fortunately, the majority of people came to be less dismissive of the real nature and scope of the AIDS problem. Today we understand that not only is AIDS / HIV is an extremely dangerous viral infection, but also that the transmission risk isn’t exclusively in sexual contact. This makes it so that AIDS is a more universal risk, and certainly not one that’s exclusive to gay men.

Fortunately, when HIV symptoms and the virus are detected early enough then HIV treatment can be very effective. HIV treatments have come a long way in recent years, and most notably with drug advances that have made it so that AIDS no longer comes with the near certainty of the individual dying of the virus.

What is HIV and AIDS?

Most people will have at least some familiarity with the virus, but some people may still be asking – what is HIV? It’s a virus that attacks cells in the immune system, and in particular it destroys a type of white blood cell known as a T-helper cell (aka CD4 cell). At the same time as they virus is destroying these cells, it’s also making more copies of itself. As this continues, the individual’s immune system becomes weaker. Once enough of the cells are destroyed that the immune system is permanently compromised then it becomes a Chronic HIV infection.

Next, once your CD4 cell count drops below 200 then the HIV infection is considered to have developed into AIDS.

This T-helper cell depletion itself isn’t what makes HIV come with such a pronounced risk of death. Rather, it’s because the lack of these T-helper white blood cells means the person is not properly defended against infections and diseases that may kill them. A good example of this is the late Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury. He didn’t die of AIDS, he died of pneumonia because he wasn’t able to effectively fight off the pneumonia infection as a result of what AIDS had done to his immune system.

Most Common HIV Symptoms

An HIV infection develops in 3 stages, and the signs and symptoms of HIV seen in each will be different. The first stage is acute HIV infection, and the HIV symptoms seen here are for the most part a result of the person’s still-robust immune system working to fight against the infection. This stage typically lasts 2 to 6 weeks following the virus being acquired.

AIDS symptoms during this stage 1 are often similar to flu symptoms. They include:

  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Aching muscles
  • Sore throat
  • Red rash on torso
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes

These symptoms will typically last a week or two, and then disappear entirely. There is great value in taking action based on these symptoms if you have any reason to suspect you may have been exposed to the AIDS virus. That’s because physicians can prevent HIV from establishing itself in the body if they’re able to act quickly while the virus is still in this stage 1.

Stage 2 HIV Symptoms

The flu symptom abatement that signals the end of the stage 1 of AIDS means your body has now lost the fight with HIV. Stage 2 of the virus now begins, and can last for 10 years or more. What’s remarkable about this stage is that signs and symptoms of HIV are for the most part completely absent now. There’s very little to tip you or your physician off to the fact that you have a life-threatening viral illness.

Any type of HIV symptoms tend to be absent and thus unidentifiable during the second stage of the infection.

The good news regarding Stage 2 of HIV is that the virus can still be fought at this time with a combination of medications. Of course, it is still preferable to have an HIV diagnosis when the infection is still in stage 1.

Stage 3 HIV Symptoms

Once HIV has become ‘full-blown’ AIDS, as the term goes, there are a number of very pronounced and unmistakable AIDS symptoms that will be seen or experienced. They include:

  • Chronic exhaustion to the point of physical weakness
  • Fever lasting 10 days or more
  • Swollen lymph nodes in neck or groin
  • Night sweats
  • Purplish skin spots that don’t diminish
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Yeast infections in mouth, throat, or vagina
  • Continually severe diarrhea
  • Unexplained bruises or bleeding

Other Important Information Related to HIV Symptoms and AIDS Symptoms

Antiretroviral treatments can reduce the level of HIV in the body to very low levels to the extent that blood tests cannot detect it. When the viral load is undetectable is in this way, HIV symptoms will not be as readily identifiable as they would otherwise. However, while invisible symptoms would be a cause for concern, in these instances the treatments and their effectiveness make it so that the individual cannot pass on HIV.

Lastly, certain AIDS symptoms listed above as part of stage 3 are only seen in individuals who have had their HIV infection develop into AIDS. Be aware that HIV can only be transmitted via semen, blood, vaginal and anal fluids, and breast milk. It cannot be transmitted through sweat, urine, or saliva.