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What are the symptoms of HIV/AIDS?

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People with an HIV infection experience different symptoms in the early and late stages of infection. Mostly, these symptoms are the same in women and men, but some symptoms are unique to women.

Early Stages

At first, a person with HIV will not have any visible symptoms.

HIV symptoms can also be similar to those caused by other illnesses.

An HIV test is the only way to tell for sure whether you have HIV.

A few weeks after infection, many people have flu-like symptoms, which then disappear after a while. These symptoms can include fever, headache, tiredness, and enlarged lymph glands in the neck and groin area. Other people infected with HIV may have no symptoms.

However, even if people with HIV feel healthy, HIV is still affecting their bodies. Once HIV enters the body, it infects large numbers of CD4+ cells and rapidly spreads throughout the body and into many organ systems. During this early period, people with HIV are more likely to spread the infection during unprotected sex or other risky situations because HIV is present in large amounts in genital fluids and in blood. 

HIV infection is associated with many medical conditions, including frequent or unusual infections, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and cancer. If not treated, some people with HIV have severe symptoms at first, but others have no symptoms for 10 years or more.

Later Stages

AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection, when a person's immune system is severely weakened and has difficulty fighting infections and certain cancers. At this stage, serious symptoms occur that can include rapid weight loss; serious infections; pneumonia; recurrent fevers; prolonged swelling of the lymph glands; blotches on the skin; prolonged diarrhea; sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals; and memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more comprehensive information about the symptoms of HIV/AIDS.

Signs and Symptoms of HIV/AIDS in Infants and Children

HIV infection is often difficult to diagnose in very young children. One the one hand, infants with HIV often appear normal and may show no signs allowing for a clear diagnosis of HIV infection. On the other hand, many infants develop multiple and serious illnesses related to their HIV infection.

Many children with HIV infection do not gain weight or grow normally. If left untreated, HIV-infected children are frequently slow to reach important milestones in motor skills and mental development, such as crawling, walking, and talking. As the disease progresses, many children with untreated HIV develop problems with walking, poor school performance, seizures, and other symptoms of HIV brain encephalopathy (a brain infection).1

Children with untreated HIV suffer the usual childhood infections more frequently and more severely than HIV-uninfected children. These infections can cause seizures, fever, pneumonia, recurrent colds, diarrhea, dehydration, and other problems that often result in extended hospital stays and nutritional problems. Like adults with HIV infection, children with HIV are at risk of developing life-threatening opportunistic infections. Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), a severe form of pneumonia that strikes people with weakened immune systems, is common and sometimes deadly in infants who do not receive treatment for their HIV infection.1

More information on how HIV affects infants and children is available from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.


  1. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. HIV Infection in Infants and Children. Retrieved on March 21, 2013, from http://www.niaid.nih.gov/news/newsreleases/2000/Pages/drug_regimen_backgrounder.aspx [top]

Last Updated Date: 12/16/2013
Last Reviewed Date: 06/04/2013
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