HIV may not cause symptoms for a number of years. The initial infection may result in flu-like symptoms. During this acute HIV infection, the virus is rapidly reproducing, and the body’s immune system is mounting a defense. The virus can easily be passed to other people during this period.
Initial symptoms may include:
After these initial symptoms are gone, there may be no symptoms for months to years, depending on your health status and lifestyle choices. It may be 10 years or longer before a person with HIV develops symptoms. Some infected people have had the virus for even longer periods without developing symptoms. Even though there are no symptoms, the virus is multiplying and damaging the immune system and can be passed on to someone else.
Once the virus sufficiently weakens the immune system, the following symptoms may occur over the course of 1-3 years:
Once HIV has progressed to AIDS, the immune system has become quite weakened and prone to opportunistic infections—infections that people with a normal immune system don't usually get. These infections occur in people with AIDS because the immune system isn't able to fight them off.
Examples of opportunistic infections and other complications of AIDS include:
A guide to primary care of people with HIV/AIDS. National Institute of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://hab.hrsa.gov/deliverhivaidscare/files/primary2004ed.pdf. Accessed May 15, 2013.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2010. MMWR. 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.
HIV/AIDS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/index.html. Accessed May 15, 2013.
HIV/AIDS. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease website. Available at: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/HIVAIDS/Understanding/Pages/whatAreHIVAIDS.aspx. Accessed May 15, 2013.
HIV infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 7, 2013. Accessed May 15, 2013.
5/6/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Chu C, Selwyn PA. Complications of HIV infection: a systems-based approach. Am Fam Physician. 2011;83(4):395-406.
Last reviewed September 2015 by David L. Horn, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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