People with HIV experience different symptoms in the early and late stages of infection.
Acute HIV Infection
A few weeks after getting HIV, many people have flu-like symptoms, which may last days or weeks. These symptoms can include fever, headache, tiredness, and enlarged lymph glands in the neck and groin area. Some people may have no symptoms.
However, even if people with HIV feel healthy, the virus 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, HIV is present in large amounts in genital fluids and in blood and can be passed to others.
Chronic HIV Infection
In the next stage of HIV infection, the virus still multiplies, but at very low levels. People may not feel sick or have any symptoms.
If they are not getting treatment for HIV during this stage, they can still pass the virus to other people. Getting and staying on treatment prevents passing HIV to others.
Without HIV treatment, people can stay in this stage for a decade or more, although some move through this stage faster.
With treatment, HIV is only present in very small amounts in genital fluids and blood, or it may not be detectable at all. People with low or undetectable levels of HIV may never develop AIDS.
AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV, when a person's immune system is severely weakened and has difficulty fighting infections and certain cancers. At this stage, serious symptoms develop, such as:
- Rapid weight loss
- Serious infections
- Recurrent fevers
- Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands
- Skin blotches
- Prolonged diarrhea
- Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Memory loss
- Other neurologic disorders
In the United States, most people with HIV do not develop AIDS thanks to highly effective treatments that stop progression of the virus.