According to the international AIDS charity Avert, approximately 25 million people throughout the world have died from AIDS since 1981. Another 2.7 million people continue to get infected with the HIV virus (the virus that causes AIDS) each year. After infection, the amount of time it takes to progress to full blown AIDS varies depending on the individual and the methods of treatment. AIDS progression can usually be tracked through stages.
Stage I: Primary Infection
The first stage of progression is primary infection. This is the time period in which the HIV virus has just entered the bloodstream, makes its home in the lymph nodes, and is beginning to hijack the cells to reproduce itself. This phase lasts from initial infection until the first antibodies are produced. From this point all the way through an AIDS diagnosis, the infected person is highly contagious through blood or sexual fluids. A person usually only stays in this stage for one or two weeks.
Stage II: Seroconversion
Seroconversion is the stage in which the immune system cells start developing specialized proteins called antibodies to help fight the HIV infection. This stage can take anywhere from three to six months of which the first three months is commonly referred to as the "window period". This is the time in which antibodies are being produced, but they may not be in a high enough number for an HIV antibody test to pick them up. This can result in a false negative. This is why many medical professionals recommend being retested three months after your first test to make sure that there were enough antibodies present to give an accurate result.
Stage III: Asymptomatic Stage
The asymptomatic stage occurs from six months after infection as long as ten or more years, or as short as a few months, depending on treatment and how active the virus is. During this time there are no symptoms of sickness, and the only way to tell if the person is HIV positive is through testing. The lymph nodes may also be slightly enlarged. Although no symptoms are present, the virus is still quite active in replicating and destroying the immune system. CD4 testing is recommended, as well as occasional viral load testing to monitor the progress of the disease.
Stage IV: Symptomatic Stage
At the symptomatic stage, the immune system has been compromised enough for the first symptoms of AIDS to start showing through. These include mouth sores, rashes, night sweats, and weight loss. This stage occurs anywhere from five to seven years after initial infection, but can take less or more time depending on the individual and treatment methods.
Stage V: Late Stage AIDS
According to the Center for Disease Control, late stage AIDS usually occurs once the CD4 cell count drops below 200/mm3, or when an opportunistic infection such as pneumonia or toxoplasmosis takes hold of the body. This stage can last anywhere from a few months to many years before death will eventually claim the life of the patient. This mostly depends on the course of treatment such as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), or by successfully treating the opportunistic infections that threaten the life of the AIDS patient. According to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, some AIDS patients have lived in this stage for as many as two decades.