It is important to know the risk factors, signs, and symptoms of Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), and to get tested and treated in order to delay progression of the disease.
Risk Factors for HIV Infection
Human immunodeficiency virus infects various cells of the human immune system that express CD4 receptors. By attacking these cells, the body’s immune system is unable to fight off other infections. Risk factors for HIV infection include unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex with an infected partner or with a partner of whom you don’t know their HIV status, or by sharing needles that are used to inject drugs.
HIV Signs and Symptoms
HIV is a complex disease that does not present itself immediately after one becomes infected. In some cases, people will not experience any symptoms at all because the HIV virus can remain latent or silent in the body for years.
People do not experience any symptoms or they are very mild during the “clinically latent” stage of HIV. People can remain in this stage for many years while the HIV virus is replicating at low levels but is kept in check. The virus can still be transmitted to others during this stage, even when symptoms are absent.
Typical early symptoms become apparent in about 2-4 weeks after initial infection. Symptoms of the early phase of the disease are described as the “worst flu ever” and include fever, swollen glands, sore throat, rash, fatigue, headache, and muscle or joint pain. These symptoms can last from just a few days to a few weeks and are not unique to HIV infection. The only way to confirm an HIV infection is with a laboratory test.
As the disease progresses to AIDS the body’s immune system is weakened and other infections, called opportunistic infections, can occur and they can be fatal. This usually occurs when the CD4 count is below 200 and leads to a rapid decline in health. Symptoms and signs of advanced HIV infection include rapid weight loss, recurring fever, sores of the mouth or genitals, prolonged sore throat, constant diarrhea, memory loss, and depression.