Overview of HIV Symptoms
It is important to recognize symptoms of HIV as soon as possible since early diagnosis and treatment will prevent serious illness. Early treatment will also reduce your chances of transmitting the virus to others.
When you’re first infected with HIV, you may experience a short ‘flu-like’ illness as your immune system attempts to fight the virus.
If you notice any of these early signs:
- Sore throat
- Joint/ muscle pain
- Swollen glands
- Skin rash
And have recently put yourself at risk (either through unprotected sex or using injecting drugs), you should get yourself tested. You can order an HIV testing kit from our team of online doctors and learn your status within 2 days.
What Do I Need to Know About Early HIV Symptoms?
When the HIV virus first enters your body, you may experience a short ‘flu-like’ illness.
This is known as the ‘seroconversion illness,’ and it occurs because your blood is being converted from HIV negative to HIV positive by the production of antibodies.
Everybody infected with HIV will seroconvert at some stage, but only about 80% will notice any symptoms.
Seroconversion usually occurs 1 – 3 weeks after infection, but could take up to 6 months.
Common Early Symptoms – Fever, Chills and Sore Throat
The most common early signs are ‘flu like’ symptoms that you’d expect from most 24-hour bugs.
You’ll probably start with a high fever, chills and sweats which may be accompanied by a sore throat and mouth ulcers.
You may find it difficult to chew or eat, which can cause rapid weight loss.
You may develop a severe headache, have difficulty concentrating and feel weak and unsteady on your feet.
Swollen Lymph Nodes
Swollen lymph nodes can appear early on in seroconversion and last for a few weeks or more. After disappearing, they will probably return later on in infection and last for 3 months or more.
Infected nodes usually appear in the neck, armpits and groin area.
They may be slightly enlarged or as large as golf balls during HIV infection. They are also usually tender and painful to touch.
Joint and Muscle Pain
People with this infection often complain about severe muscle/joint aches or stiffness. This, accompanied by recent HIV risk behaviour, could be a possible symptom of HIV. Severe joint and muscle pain can add to any existing feelings of fatigue, making you exhausted.
Many people experience a ‘maculopapular rash’ (a flat, red skin rash that’s covered in raised bumps) in the early stages of HIV infection.
The rash can appear anywhere on the body, but it will mostly be found on the face, chest and palms.
It will probably last for about 2-3 weeks and should not itch or be irritating in any way.
The rash may appear as ulcers in the mouth or on the genitals.
Learn more about HIV rashes.
Diarrhoea and Vomiting
Diarrhoea and vomiting during seroconversion illness is rarer, but it’s still an early sign of HIV infection.
How Long Do the Early Symptoms of HIV Last?
It depends on the person. It can last from 1 – 6 weeks or it could not occur at all!
You might suffer intense initial symptoms for about a week, and then just feel severely fatigued for the rest of the month, or you might be experiencing symptoms all the way through.
What Should I Do If I Notice Symptoms?
If you do start noticing any of the early symptoms of HIV, and you have put yourself at risk of HIV infection then you need to get tested.
The thing about HIV testing is that, you need to wait for a sufficient number of antibodies to build up in your system for an accurate result. This takes about 1 – 3 months.
You can ask your doctor for a viral load test (which will detect any HIV circulating in your blood stream) but these are rarely used in HIV testing. They’re very sensitive. They have a tendency of showing up false-positives, so if you take the test and this happens to you, you will be referred for an HIV antibody test to confirm your status anyway.
The 4th Generation (antigen/ antibody) test is the one most used in the UK. It can give an accurate result from 4 weeks after exposure.
Early HIV Infection: High Risk of Infecting Others
You are 20 times more contagious during acute HIV infection than you are during long-term infection.
This is because the number of HIV particles in your blood is far higher during seroconversion than it is at any other stage.
If you suspect you may be seroconverting, do not have unprotected sex (or engage in other high risk behaviour) with anyone during this time.