HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. If left untreated, HIV can lead to the disease AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Unlike some other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV 

completely. Therefore, once you have HIV, you have it for life. HIV attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells), which help the immune system fight off infections. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. 



Contact with certain body fluids: 

-Blood, Semen, Pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), Rectal fluids, Vaginal fluids, Breast milk. 

-Sexual contact: As it implies contact with the specific body fluids that transmit the virus. 

-Sharing of needles and syringes (HIV can live up to 42 days in shared equipment).



The symptoms of HIV vary, depending on the individual and what stage of the disease you are in: the early stage, the clinical latency stage (means a period where a virus is living or developing in a person without producing symptoms), or AIDS (the late stage of HIV infection). Below are the symptoms that some individuals may experience in these three stages. Not all individuals will experience these symptoms. 


Early stage: Acute HIV Infection

Most people don't know right away when they've been infected with HIV, but a short time later, they may have symptoms. This is when your body's immune system puts up a fight, typically within 2 to 6 weeks after you've gotten the virus. But some people may not feel sick during this stage. 

The symptoms typically last a week or two and then completely go away. They include:

  • Fever 

  • Chills 

  • Rash 

  • Night sweats 

  • Muscle aches 

  • Sore throat 

  • Fatigue 

  • Diarrhea 

  • Nausea and vomiting 

  • Headaches 

  • Swollen lymph nodes 

  • Mouth ulcers 


During this time, HIV infection may not show up on an HIV test, but people who have it are highly infectious and can spread the infection to others. And some people who have HIV do not show any symptoms at all for 10 years or more.


Clinical Latency Stage/Chronic HIV Infection

After the early stage of HIV infection, the disease moves into a stage called the clinical latency stage (also called “chronic HIV infection”). During this stage, HIV is still active but reproduces at very low levels. People with chronic HIV infection may not have any HIV-related symptoms, or only mild ones. 

For people who aren’t taking medicine to treat HIV (called antiretroviral therapy or ART), this period can last a decade or longer, but some may progress through this phase faster. People who are taking medicine to treat HIV the right way, every day may be in this stage for several decades because treatment helps keep the virus in check. 

It’s important to remember that people can still transmit HIV to others during this phase even if they have no symptoms, although people who are on ART and stay virally suppressed (having a very low level of virus in their blood) are much less likely to transmit HIV than those who are not virally suppressed. 

Most people don't have symptoms you can see or feel. You may not realize you're infected and can pass HIV on to others. During this time, untreated HIV will be killing CD4 T-cells and destroying your immune system. Your doctor can check how many you have with blood tests. As the number drops, you become vulnerable to other infections. 

Fortunately, a combination, or "cocktail," of medications can help fight HIV, rebuild your immune system, and prevent spreading the virus. if you're taking medications and have healthy habits, your HIV infection may not progress further.


Late Stage: Progression to AIDS

If you have HIV and you are not on ART, eventually the virus will weaken your body’s immune system and you will progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), the late stage of HIV infection. AIDS is the advanced stage of HIV infection. This is usually when your CD4 T-cell number drops below 200. You can also be diagnosed with AIDS if you have an "AIDS defining illness" such as Kaposi's sarcoma (a form of skin cancer) or pneumocystis pneumonia (a lung disease). If you didn't know you were infected with HIV earlier, you may realize it after you have some of these symptoms: 

  • Rapid weight loss 

  • Recurring fever or profuse night sweats 

  • Extreme and unexplained tiredness 

  • Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck 

  • Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week 

  • Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals 

  • Pneumonia 

  • Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids 

  • Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders. 

  • Fever that lasts for more than 10 days 

  • Shortness of breath 

  • Severe, long-lasting diarrhea 

  • Yeast infections in your mouth, throat, or vagina 

  • Bruises or bleeding you can't explain 


Each of these symptoms can also be related to other illnesses. The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. Many of the severe symptoms and illnesses of HIV disease come from the opportunistic infections that occur because your body’s immune system has been damaged. 



People under the correct treatment can have almost a normal life. Nevertheless, patients who have HIV and are untreated, rapidly progress to AIDS, with vast consequences for their health, as is harder to manage the virus when it reached this stage. 



Most modern HIV tests are now able to detect HIV from around 11 days after infection. On average, you should test 3-4 weeks after exposure. Even if your results come back negative, you should test again after 3 months for confirmation. Depending on the type of test conducted and the timing of your risk, your doctor may ask you to come back for further tests and a follow-up before a true result can be given.



With a blood test that you can take in several different medical and diagnosis centers. 



There is no cure for the virus; nevertheless, with the right treatment (Anti-retroviral drugs) and a healthy lifestyle, you can live a long time. Doctors can now prevent HIV from taking hold in your body if they act quickly. People who may have been infected (e.g. had unprotected sex with someone who is HIV-positive), can take anti-HIV drugs to protect themselves. This is called PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis). However, you must start the process within 72 hours of when you were exposed.

© 2014 | The ARISE Africa FDN is a registered 501c3 

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