For many people with HIV, symptoms tend to develop slowly over time, although some people may experience a flu-like illness within a month or two of being infected. Symptoms can include fatigue, weight loss, persistent skin rashes, and frequent fevers, among others. Symptoms of HIV progressively worsen as the immune system weakens. This can happen within a few months of infection or not until 10 or more years have passed.
Early HIV Symptoms
Many people will not have any symptoms of HIV when they are first infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). However, some people do have a flu-like illness within a month or two after exposure. This illness may include:
- Enlarged lymph nodes (glands of the immune system easily felt in the neck and groin).
These HIV symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month, and are often mistaken for those of another viral infection. During this period, people are highly infectious (can easily spread the virus), and HIV is present in large quantities in genital fluids.
Symptoms of HIV and the "Asymptomatic" Period
More persistent or severe symptoms of HIV may not appear for 10 years or more after HIV first enters the body in adults, or for 2 years in children born with HIV infection. This period of "asymptomatic" infection (without HIV symptoms) varies greatly in each individual. Some people may begin to have symptoms within a few months, while others may be symptom-free for more than 10 years.
Even during the asymptomatic period, the virus is actively multiplying, infecting, and killing cells of the immune system. The virus can also hide within infected cells and lie dormant. The most obvious effect of HIV infection is a decline in the number of CD4+ T cells found in the blood. These are the immune system's key infection fighters. The virus slowly disables or destroys these cells without causing symptoms.