HIV / Aids

What are the clinical features of HIV?

Early symptoms Many people will not have experience any symptoms when they first become infected with HIV. They may, however, experience flu-like symptoms within a month or two after exposure to the virus. This illness may include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (glands related to the immune system, easily felt in the neck and groin)

These symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for those of another viral infection. During this period, people are very infectious, and HIV is present in large quantities in genital fluids.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT THESE ARE GENERAL SYMPTOMS FOR MANY ILLNESSES AND ARE NOT ONLY AN INDICATION OF HIV INFECTION. THE ONLY WAY TO KNOW IF YOU ARE INFECTED OR NOT IS THROUGH HIV TESTING.

Later symptoms

Generally, more persistent or severe symptoms may not appear for between 5 – 10 years or more after HIV first enters the body in adults, or within 2 years in children born with HIV infection. This period of asymptomatic (no symptoms) infection varies greatly between each person and is an indication of how healthy your immune system is. Some people may begin to experience symptoms within a few months, while others may be symptom-free for more than 10 years.

Even during the asymptomatic period, the virus is actively multiplying, infecting, and killing cells of the immune system. The virus can also hide within infected cells and be inactive. The most obvious effect of HIV infection is a decline in the number of CD4 positive T (CD4+) cells found in the blood-the immune system’s key infection fighters. The virus slowly disables or destroys these cells without causing symptoms.

As the immune system becomes more debilitated, a variety of complications start to take over. For many people, the first signs of infection are large lymph nodes, or swollen glands that may be enlarged for more than 3 months. Other symptoms often experienced months to years before the onset of AIDS include:

  • Lack of energy;
  • Weight loss;
  • Frequent fevers and sweats;
  • Persistent or frequent yeast infections (oral or vaginal);
  • Persistent skin rashes or flaky skin;
  • Short-term memory loss;
  • Some people develop frequent and severe herpes infections that cause mouth, genital, or anal sores, or a painful nerve disease called shingles.