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Detecting The Early Symptoms Of HIV Infection: Is It Possible?

Detecting The Early Symptoms Of HIV Infection: Is It Possible?

HIV is a virus that weakens the human immune system. A person infected with HIV may experience some early-stage symptoms within the first few years of exposure. However, it’s also possible that during the early stages, there are no symptoms at all. Regardless of when the symptoms appear, immediate treatment is crucial. If treatment is not carried out, the early symptoms of HIV can progress to AIDS, the last stage of the infection.

Early Symptoms Of HIV Infection

The HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) attacks the immune system and weakens it gradually until your body becomes susceptible to disease, especially infections.

But when it enters the body, it will not damage your organs right away. In fact, HIV infection can take about 2-15 years to show typical symptoms.

Does that mean HIV infection is undetectable in the early stages? Fortunately, it is still possible to spot the early symptoms of HIV. Reports say they begin to appear no later than 1-2 months after the virus enters the body. As a matter of fact, health authorities say early-stage HIV symptoms can be seen very early on, at about 2 weeks after the virus infects the body.

Symptoms of HIV at the beginning of the viral incubation period are generally similar to the symptoms of the common cold, which include:

  • HIV fever (usually higher than normal fever; may even be accompanied by a sensation of intense fever.
  • Headache.
  • HIV patients are constantly tired .
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Sore throat.
  • HIV skin rash .
  • Pain in muscles and joints.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Injuries to intimate organs.
  • Frequent night sweats.
  • Diarrhea in HIV patients .

However, not everyone will show symptoms of HIV early in their illness. There are some people who actually do not show symptoms at the beginning of infection,

That is why, everyone who is at high risk of contracting and transmitting the HIV virus must undergo an HIV test.

HIV Infection Phases

To better understand the early symptoms of HIV infection, let’s enumerate and explain its phases.

First Phase of HIV

The early symptoms of HIV can last from a few days to a few weeks. This short period is called acute infection or primary HIV infection (also known as acute retroviral syndrome).

If you take an HIV test at this stage, the infection may not show up on the test results. This is certainly dangerous because people who are actually infected can still spread the virus to others without knowing that they are HIV-positive.

At this stage, most people experience flu-like symptoms. The early symptoms of HIV are also often similar to those of a gastrointestinal or respiratory tract infection.

Second Phase of HIV

The second phase is the clinical latent stage or chronic HIV infection. At this stage, people with HIV may not feel any symptoms.

The HIV virus is actually still active, but it is very slow to reproduce. That’s why you may not experience any of the early symptoms of HIV.

This latent period can last a decade or more without experiencing any signs or symptoms at all.

Despite being in a latent period without symptoms, people with HIV can transmit the virus to others. This is because the immune system is still able to control the activity of the virus, but cannot eliminate the virus completely.

HIV-positive patients who regularly take medicines to control the infection may have a longer latency period. In contrast, those who do not take medications may experience faster disease progression.

Additionally, if you take your medication regularly and have very low levels of virus in your body, you are less likely to pass the HIV virus on to others.

Third Phase of HIV: AIDS

The last phase of HIV is AIDS. In this final phase, HIV infection in the body causes the immune system to be severely damaged and susceptible to opportunistic infections – the infections that attack people with poor immune systems.

How Important Is Getting An HIV Test?

Detecting the early symptoms of HIV is not enough to diagnose the infection. The doctor will ask you to take an HIV blood test for confirmation.

Getting tested for HIV is very important because people who are infected with HIV but do not show early symptoms may not realize that they are already infected.

If you experience the early symptoms of HIV, do not panic. Immediately consult a doctor, particularly if you belong in the group that is vulnerable to HIV and AIDS. Immediate testing helps protect yourself and others.

Being Diagnosed With HIV Is Not A “Death Sentence”

People with HIV require treatment with antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to reduce the amount of HIV in the body. Medications also help slow down the disease progression.

In addition to controlling the early symptoms of HIV, this treatment has been shown to play a role in HIV prevention because it stops the gradual progression of the virus. That way, the amount of virus in the blood will decrease.

Besides antiretrovirals, behavioral changes also contribute to the reduction of viral load. Patients must stop sharing needles and practice safe sex, such as wearing condoms for protection.

If you or someone close to you experience early symptoms of HIV, don’t panic. Consult a doctor right away so that they can tell you about the diagnosis and possible treatment options.

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Sources

Maartens, G., Celum, C., & Lewin, S. (2014). HIV infection: epidemiology, pathogenesis, treatment, and prevention. The Lancet, 384(9939), 258-271. https://www.doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(14)60164-1

Günthard, H. F., Saag, M. S., Benson, C. A., del Rio, C., Eron, J. J., Gallant, J. E., Hoy, J. F., Mugavero, M. J., Sax, P. E., Thompson, M. A., Gandhi, R. T., Landovitz, R. J., Smith, D. M., Jacobsen, D. M., & Volberding, P. A. (2016). Antiretroviral Drugs for Treatment and Prevention of HIV Infection in Adults: 2016 Recommendations of the International Antiviral Society-USA Panel. JAMA, 316(2), 191–210. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2016.8900

National Institute of Health. (2021). HIV Treatment: The Basics. Retrieved 19 January 2021, from https://hivinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv/fact-sheets/hiv-treatment-basics

HIV gov. (2020). Symptoms of HIV. Retrieved 19 January 2021, from https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/symptoms-of-hiv

WHO. (2020). HIV/AIDS. Retrieved 19 January 2021, from https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hiv-aids

CDC. (2021). About HIV/AIDS | HIV Basics | HIV/AIDS. Retrieved 19 January 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/whatishiv.html

CDC. (2021). Opportunistic Infections | Living with HIV | HIV Basics | HIV/AIDS. Retrieved 19 January 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/livingwithhiv/opportunisticinfections.html

Mayo Clinic. (2021). HIV/AIDS – Symptoms and causes. Retrieved 19 January 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hiv-aids/symptoms-causes/syc-20373524

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Written by Hello Sehat Updated 3 weeks ago
Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD