HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. People with untreated HIV infection are unable to fight off infections or cancer as well as healthy people and can easily become sick.
Progression from HIV to AIDS is not as common as it used to be because of the availability of antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications.
- Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection
- Stage 2: Chronic HIV Infection (asymptomatic HIV infection or clinical latency)
- HIV is active but reproduces at very low levels
- Symptoms may not occur during this phase
- Without HIV medication, stage 2 can last a decade or longer in some patients
- HIV can be transmitted in this phase
- At the end of stage 2, the amount of HIV in the blood (the viral load) increases and the CD4 cell count decreases
- Symptoms may occur as virus levels increase in the body, and the person progresses to stage 3
- If HIV medications are taken as prescribed patients may not progress to stage 3
- Stage 3: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
- This is the most severe phase of HIV infection
- AIDS damages the body’s immune system and patients can develop an increasing number of severe illnesses (called opportunistic infections)
- AIDS is diagnosed when CD4 cell counts drop below 200 cells/mm or if patients develop certain opportunistic infections
- People with AIDS may have a high viral load and be highly infectious
- Without treatment, the life expectancy for AIDS patients is about three years
- In the U.S., most people infected with HIV do not go on to develop AIDS because HIV medicines are available that can stop the progression of the disease
What Are Symptoms of HIV/AIDS?
The first symptoms of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) are called primary or acute HIV infection. These early symptoms usually occur two to four weeks after a person is infected with the virus. Acute HIV infection symptoms last about 2 weeks and are usually mild. People often don’t realize they have HIV at this point. Early symptoms may include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Sore throat
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Skin rash
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Dry cough
- Painful open sores or ulcers that can develop in the mouth, the esophagus, the anus, or the penis (only occurs in a small proportion of those exposed to the virus)
After several years, if HIV is not treated and it progresses to AIDS, other symptoms can develop, such as:
- Lymph node swelling
- Weight loss
- Stomach pain
- Other infections (opportunistic infections)
What Is the Treatment for HIV/AIDS?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)/AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) involves different combinations of antiretroviral medicines to help keep HIV infection controlled.
Early HIV infection is usually treated with one of the following antiretroviral therapy (ART) regimens:
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