Most people who are infected with HIV experience a short, flu-like illness that occurs two to six weeks after infection. After this, HIV often causes no symptoms for several years.
The flu-like illness that often occurs a few weeks after HIV infection is also known as seroconversion illness. It's estimated that up to 80% of people who are infected with HIV experience this illness.
The most common symptoms are:
- fever (raised temperature)
- sore throat
- body rash
Other symptoms can include:
- joint pain
- muscle pain
- swollen glands (nodes)
The symptoms usually last one to two weeks but can be longer. They are a sign that your immune system is putting up a fight against the virus.
However, these symptoms are most commonly caused by conditions other than HIV, and do not mean you have the virus.
If you have several of these symptoms, and you think you have been at risk of HIV infection within the past few weeks, you should get an HIV test.
After the initial symptoms disappear, HIV will often not cause any further symptoms for many years. During this time, known as asymptomatic HIV infection, the virus continues to be active and causes progressive damage to your immune system. This process can take about 10 years, during which you will feel and appear well.
Once the immune system becomes severely damaged symptoms can include:
- weight loss
- chronic diarrhoea
- night sweats
- skin problems
- recurrent infections
- serious life-threatening illnesses
Earlier diagnosis and treatment of HIV can prevent these problems.
Read more about treating HIV.
It is recommended you should still take an HIV test if you have put yourself at risk at any time in the past, even if you experience no symptoms.
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