Early symptoms of HIV


First of all, experiencing the early symptoms of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) does not mean one has AIDS. Quite the contrary, AIDS is actually the final stage of an HIV infection. Once you have been diagnosed as HIV-positive there is no turning back. You will have human immunodeficiency virus until the day you day; whether you die of it or live the rest of your life in spite of it is another matter entirely. HIV is a manageable condition especially when detected early, which is why it is important to know what the first signs of infection are.

Early stage HIV symptoms include:

·         Fever

·         Swollen glands

·         Sore throat

·         Rash

·         Fatigue

·         Muscle and joint pain

·         Headache

·         Chills

·         Night sweats

·         Diarrhea

These symptoms resemble those of influenza. However, this is not just “the worst flu ever,” as it is often described, but it is actually called primary HIV infection, also known as acute retroviral syndrome. The early symptoms of HIV may develop from 2 to 4 weeks after being exposed to the virus and may last a few days or several weeks. On the other hand, people may live with HIV for up to ten years without showing any symptoms. Moreover, the aforementioned symptoms may be caused by a different illness, or you may even actually have a particularly nasty flu. So if you experience these symptoms, do not panic and get tested. And if you believe you may have been exposed to HIV, also get tested, regardless of whether or not you have any symptoms.

Most traditional HIV tests check to see whether the body has produced antibodies to the virus, instead of detecting the virus itself. These include:

·         Enzyme immunoassay. Uses blood, oral fluid, or urine. Results take up to 2 weeks to be ready.

·         Rapid HIV antibody test. Uses blood, oral fluid, or urine. Results come back in 10 to 20 minutes.

Paradoxically, while people who are in the early stages of infection are greatly contagious because they have a high viral load in their genital fluids and blood, they have not produced any antibodies yet – a process that may take up to 12 weeks. Though not as common as antibody tests, antigen tests may be used to diagnose HIV infection 1 to 3 weeks after being exposed to the virus. For example, the polymerase chain reaction test (PCR) detects the very genetic material of HIV in the blood within 2 to 3 weeks of infection. Also, a little over a year ago the FDA approved the Alere Determine HIV-1/2 Ag/Ab Combo test, the first to distinguish results for HIV-1 p24 antigen and HIV antibodies in a single test.

According to the CDC, all patients between the ages of 13 and 64 should get an HIV test during a medical check-up. Furthermore, people who engage in risky behavior such as

·         Having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

·         Having sex with multiple or anonymous partners.

·         Having unprotected sex with a partner who does not know their HIV status.

·         Sharing needles to inject intravenous drugs.

·         Exchanging sex for drugs or money.

Other risk factors include other medical conditions like syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, bacterial vaginosis, or trichomoniasis (several STDs can produce open sores in the genital region through which HIV can enter the body) or hepatitis, tuberculosis, or malaria. Additionally, certain studies have suggested that uncircumcised men are at an increased risk of heterosexual HIV transmission. Fetuses or infants born to and/or breastfed by an HIV-infected mother are also at great risk, as are individuals who received a blood transfusion or clotting factor in the United States anytime from 1978 to 1985.

People who have sexual relations with multiple or anonymous partners aren’t probably very shy, but just in case there are home testing kits such as the FDA-approved Home Access HIV-1 Test System. This sample-collection kit allows users to collect a sample of their blood by pricking a finger with a sterile lancet, put the blood on a special collection card in the kit, and send it back to a lab for testing. In addition, HIV testing in the United States ranges from confidential (name and other info are attached to test results and go to medical records which may be shared with healthcare providers and insurance companies but are otherwise protected by state and federal privacy laws) to anonymous (nothing ties the results to the tested person, who gets a unique identifier allowing them to get the results).

Timely testing and detection not only leads to the patient taking measures to prevent infecting others with the virus, but also to treating the disease before it has had a chance to do too much damage. Once the early symptoms of HIV have passed the virus progresses to the clinical latency stage, which may be called asymptomatic or chronic HIV infection, because there are no symptoms or only mild ones – some people do experience persistent swelling of lymph nodes –, in spite of which HIV is still active and reproducing in the body, though at a slower pace, and patients don’t stop being infectious. Clinical latency may last for ten years or less without treatment, or it can be indefinitely prolonged with antiretroviral therapy (see Johnson, Magic). Nevertheless, though antiretroviral therapy (ART) reduces transmission risk, patients on ART are still contagious. Conversely, HIV cannot be spread by using a toilet seat, sharing food utensils or drinking glasses, shaking hands, or kissing. 

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