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AIDS/HIV - symptoms

What are the symptoms of HIV/AIDS?

A person infected with HIV may or may not have signs and symptoms of HIV. Common symptoms at various times during HIV infection are discussed below.

Symptoms of acute HIV infection

HIV infection has three stages. The first stage is called acute infection or seroconversion and it happens within two to six weeks after exposure or becoming infected. This is when the body's immune system puts up a fight against HIV. The symptoms of acute infection are similar to those of other viral illnesses and are often compared to getting the flu. The symptoms may last a week or two and then completely go away as the virus goes into a non-symptomatic, or asymptomatic, stage.

The initial symptoms of acute HIV infection may include:

Speak with your doctor about HIV infection if you think you have come in contact with HIV. The risk of HIV taking hold in the body can be reduced with post-exposure-prophylaxis (PEP), which is a four-week course of anti- HIV drugs. These drugs must be commenced within 72 hours of initial exposure. You may be tested for HIV using highly sensitive tests that detect actual viral material - instead of antibodies - in the blood.

Most people don't know they've been infected with HIV, but weeks later they may experience the symptoms of seroconversion. These symptoms mean the body is struggling with HIV.

The period without symptoms of HIV

After the first seroconversion period, the immune system loses the battle with HIV and symptoms go away. HIV infection goes into its second stage, which can be a long period without symptoms, called the asymptomatic period. This is when people may not know they are infected and can pass HIV on to others. This period can last 10 or more years.

During this period without symptoms, HIV is slowly killing the CD4 T-cells and destroying the immune system. Blood tests during this time can show the number of CD4 T-cells. Normally, a person has a CD4 T-cell count between 450 and 1,400 cells per microlitre. This number changes constantly, depending on a person's state of health. For an HIV-infected person, the number of CD4 T-cells steadily drops, putting them in danger of other infections - and in danger of developing AIDS.

HIV infection and AIDS

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the advanced stage of HIV infection. When the CD4 T-cell count drops to below 200, people are diagnosed with AIDS.

Someone infected with HIV can also be diagnosed with AIDS if they have an “AIDS defining illness” such as Kaposi’s Sarcoma or pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP).

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