There is no specific first sign of HIV, but there are several symptoms that may indicate HIV infection at two different stages. It is important to remember, however, that the only way to truly know one's HIV status is by being tested.
Acute HIV Infection
Flu-like symptoms may occur two to four weeks after an individual contracts HIV. Symptoms of this illness include fever, fatigue, sore throat, headache and muscle aches, skin rash, and digestive troubles like nausea and diarrhea. These symptoms clear up on their own within a month.
When considering a diagnosis of HIV, it is necessary to establish that a possible exposure has occurred. Adults contract HIV through unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex with an infected person and by sharing hypodermic needles or crack pipes with an infected person.
The symptoms of acute HIV infection are not specific to HIV, meaning that other conditions cause these symptoms, and they alone are not enough to diagnose HIV. Similarly, an absence of these symptoms is not enough to rule out HIV, as not everyone develops symptoms of acute HIV infection.
Some people may not experience signs of HIV until third-stage HIV-disease, which follows the long asymptomatic stage (lasting an average of 10 years). Symptoms of this stage include a chronic flu-like illness along with night sweats, weight loss, fungal infections, as well as skin and breathing problems.
Because the symptoms of acute HIV are mild and this stage is followed by a long period without symptoms, it is necessary to be tested to determine one's true HIV status. The Harm Reduction Coalition helps locate testing centers; see the "Resources" section.