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HIV/AIDS (cont.)

HIV/AIDS Early Symptoms and Signs

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Many people with HIV do not know they are infected. In the United States, it is likely that 14% of HIV-positive individuals are unaware of their infection. HIV infection progresses in different stages.

Acute HIV Infection

  • Many people do not develop symptoms after they are first infected with HIV. Others will have signs and symptoms in the early stage of HIV infection, referred to as primary or acute HIV infection.
  • The most common symptoms are similar to a flu-like illness within several days to weeks after exposure to the virus.
  • Early HIV symptoms include
  • A characteristic feature of primary HIV infection is open sores or ulcers in the mouth. These symptoms usually disappear within a few weeks.

Clinical Latency Stage

  • After an acute infection, the person feels normal and has no symptoms. This asymptomatic phase often lasts for years.
  • The progression of disease varies widely among individuals. This stage of HIV infection may last an average of 10 years.
    • During this period, the virus continues to multiply actively and infects and kills the cells of the immune system.
    • The virus destroys the cells that are the primary infection fighters, a type of white blood cell called CD4 cells.
    • Even though the person has no symptoms, he or she is contagious and can pass HIV to others through the routes listed above.


AIDS is the late or advanced stage of HIV infection, when the body begins losing its ability to fight infections. Once the CD4 cell count falls low enough, an infected person is said to have AIDS. Sometimes, the diagnosis of AIDS is made because the person has unusual infections or cancers that show how weak the immune system is.

  • The infections that occur with AIDS are called opportunistic infections because they take advantage of the opportunity to infect a weakened host. A person diagnosed with AIDS may need to be on antibiotic prophylaxis to prevent opportunistic infections from occurring. The infections include (but are not limited to)
  • A weakened immune system can also lead to other unusual conditions:
    • Lymphoma (a form of cancer of the lymphoid tissue) in the brain can cause fever and problems with thinking.
    • A cancer of the soft tissues called Kaposi's sarcoma causes brown, reddish, or purple spots that develop on the skin or in the mouth.

A recently identified new aggressive HIV strain from Cuba has been found to progress into AIDS faster than the average 10 years caused by the most common strains. People infected with this strain developed AIDS in three years.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/5/2015
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HIV/AIDS - Symptoms and Signs

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

HIV Disease »

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease was first described in 1981 among 2 groups—one in San Francisco and the other in New York City.

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