Although HIV/AIDS may no longer be in the media spotlight, the transmission of this sexually transmitted disease is still an ongoing concern. It is important to understand that HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse, blood transfusions, or even from mother to child during the last week of pregnancy. Sadly, AIDS has already claimed the lives of thousands of people worldwide. What are the symptoms that indicate someone has HIV/AIDS? But before discussing that, it is crucial to discuss the stages of infection.
The various stages of the disease
The final stage of HIV infection is known as AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. During this stage, the immune system is severely weakened and susceptible to various opportunistic diseases, which can ultimately lead to death. It is important to note that the progression from HIV to AIDS can take several months or even years, during which time the virus may not cause any noticeable symptoms.
There are three main stages of HIV infection:
1. Acute infection: This stage occurs shortly after initial infection and can last for a few weeks to a few months. During this time, the virus replicates rapidly in the body, but symptoms may be mild and similar to those of a common flu-like illness.
2. Latency: This is a phase of relative stability in which the virus is somewhat controlled by the immune system. There are typically no visible clinical symptoms during this stage, but the virus can still be detected in the blood through an HIV self-test.
3. AIDS: This is the final stage of HIV infection, characterized by a significant decline in immune function. During this stage, opportunistic diseases can infect the individual due to their weakened immune system. Symptoms become more apparent and are often consistent with those of the opportunistic diseases contracted.
It is important for individuals at risk of HIV infection to undergo regular testing and consult healthcare professionals for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment options.
Symptoms of HIV during primary infection
As mentioned earlier, it is possible for a patient to not develop any symptoms during the early stage of infection. However, it is important to note that the progression of the disease can vary from person to person. In about half of cases, the symptoms resemble those of mononucleosis or the flu, such as fever, headache, fatigue, sore throat, skin rash, joint and muscle pain, etc.
Many individuals may not even realize they are experiencing the early stage of infection. During this stage, individuals who have recently contracted HIV are at the highest risk of transmitting the virus because the viral load in their body is particularly high. These symptoms typically last for 1 week to 1 month and then disappear.
The Latency Stage or Asymptomatic Phase
During the latency stage, which occurs after the initial infection stage, the patient is considered seropositive. Despite not experiencing any symptoms, the virus silently attacks the immune system. The progression of the virus varies greatly from person to person. This latent stage can last for a few months to more than 10 years. During this phase, HIV continues to replicate intensely and infect other cells. However, the direct consequence is a gradual and overall weakening of the immune system's ability to protect the body from bacterial, viral, and other infections.
Symptoms in individuals diagnosed with AIDS
When the progression of AIDS stops without any signs, it is referred to as being "declared". The available treatments mainly aim to alleviate symptoms and prevent the worsening of the infection. Common signs in a person with AIDS include swollen or enlarged lymph nodes, weight loss, persistent diarrhea, fever, chronic dry cough, shortness of breath, skin infections, and night sweats. These symptoms typically manifest within 3 to 5 years, although in some patients, they may appear after a few months or even 10 years.