HIV (or human immunodeficiency virus) has four stages, with each stage accompanied by a different set of symptoms. The symptoms of acute HIV infection (first-stage HIV) are mild and nonspecific, while there are no symptoms in the second stage of HIV-disease. Because of this, many people are unaware that they have contracted HIV. The only way to know one's HIV status before symptoms appear is to be tested.
Acute HIV Infection
Acute HIV infection is the first stage of HIV; it is also known as seroconversion illness or HIV acute retroviral syndrome. Acute HIV infection includes everything that happens from the time of infection until symptoms of this stage clear up, generally within the first month after infection.
According to HIV-Symptoms.info, the symptoms of this stage include: aches and pains, sore throat, swollen lymph glands, headache, fever, skin rash, fatigue, loss of appetite and other digestive problems. These symptoms are very similar to symptoms caused by other viruses and alone are not enough to reach a diagnosis of HIV.
During second-stage HIV, asymptomatic HIV, there are no symptoms. This is the longest stage of HIV, lasting an average of 10 years. However, many people remain unaware of their status because of the absence of symptoms; it is not possible to tell just by looking at someone if they are HIV-positive.
The absence or mild nature of the symptoms in early HIV make HIV testing important. Individuals who believe they have been exposed to HIV--through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex or through the use of shared hypodermic needles--should seek out treatment at least one month after possible exposure. This is the average time it takes to develop a detectable level of antibodies to the virus, which is what most HIV tests screen for. HIVTest.org helps locate local testing centers.
Symptomatic HIV follows asymptomatic HIV and lasts between one and three years. During symptomatic HIV, chronic flulike symptoms develop. According to HIV-Symptoms.info, other symptoms of this stage include night sweats, severe weight loss, fungal infections and skin and breathing problems.
AIDS is diagnosed in HIV-positive people when the body is no longer able to fight off infection on its own (when cell-mediated immunity is lost). AIDS is a syndrome characterized by four different types of conditions: opportunistic infections, wasting (severe weight loss), cancers and neurological problems.
Opportunistic infections (OIs) only appear in people with severely damaged immune systems or cause more serious symptoms in people with weakened immune systems. Some common OIs include: toxoplasmosis (a parasitic brain disease), Pneumocystis pneumonia, herpesviruses (including cytomegalovirus, which can lead to blindness) and thrush, a fungus in the mouth.
Cancers found in AIDS include Kaposi's sarcoma, a skin cancer causing purple or other dark lesions, and lymphomas, cancers of immune cells targeted by HIV.
The most serious neurological condition found in AIDS is AIDS dementia complex (ADC). According to HIV InSite, ADC can lead to changes in motor skills, behavior and general thinking.