By six months after infection, according to HIV-Symptoms.info, HIV-disease has reached its second stage, the asymptomatic. During this stage, there are no symptoms of HIV present. Because of the absence of symptoms at this stage and the non-specific nature of the symptoms of acute HIV infection, many people are unaware that they have contracted the virus.
Acute HIV Infection
The only symptoms of HIV-disease present before six months are those of acute HIV infection. The symptoms of acute HIV infection generally occur two to four weeks after infection and last for up to one month, meaning that, by six months after infection, no symptoms are present. However, during acute HIV infection, the immune system launches its first defense against the virus; this leads to the symptoms of seroconversion (developing antibodies) illness.
According to HIV-Symptoms.info, these include: sore throat, fever, headache and other aches and pains, swollen lymph nodes, tiredness, skin rash and digestive problems. The symptoms of seroconversion illness generally appear within two to four weeks after infection and clear up within a month.
After the symptoms of seroconversion illness clear, HIV-disease enters its longest stage, the asymptomatic. This stage lasts for an average of 10 years, and there are no symptoms present during this time.
Symptoms will not appear again until the immune system has become severely weakened by HIV, during third-stage HIV-disease (symptomatic HIV). This stage is marked by a chronic flu-like illness, with other symptoms including night sweats, the development of fungal infections, weight loss, and skin and breathing problems, according to HIV-Symptoms.info.
The symptoms of acute HIV infection are very similar to those of many other viral infections. This means that, without further testing, it is not possible to reach a diagnosis of HIV.
HIV testing is the only way to know one's HIV status. Most HIV tests screen for the presence of antibodies to the virus. This means that they rely on seroconversion, the development of a detectable number of antibodies. This process takes an average of one month after infection. People who believe they have been exposed to HIV, through unprotected sex or using shared hypodermic needles, should seek out HIV testing a month or more after possible exposure. HIVTest.org helps locate local HIV testing centers; see Resources below.
Knowing one's HIV status makes it possible to take necessary precautions to protect others. Barriers should be used during vaginal and anal sex; female condoms can be used for both vaginal and anal sex by couples who do not wish to use male condoms. Condoms and dental dams (for cunnilingus) should also be used for oral sex. Needles should not be shared.
By knowing one's HIV status, one can also monitor the progress of HIV-disease through viral load testing and CD4 (an immune cell targeted by HIV) testing. Using this knowledge, individuals and their doctors can make appropriate decisions about treatment and health maintenance.