Symptoms and Signs of HIV Symptoms, Signs, and Diagnosis

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Medically Reviewed on 7/7/2022

Doctor's Notes on HIV Symptoms, Signs, and Diagnosis

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) symptoms may develop over years and may develop as follows: during the first few weeks after infection, some people have no symptoms but others may develop flu-like symptoms that resolve. Possibly years later (incubation period ranges from a few months to 10 years), the person's immune system becomes increasingly unable to respond to protect the body from infections and abnormally developing cells (cancer cells, for example). Once the patient develops a low CD4 cell count (<200 cells/mm3) or any one of a large number of complications (opportunistic infections, Kaposi's sarcoma, for example), HIV becomes the cause of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

The cause of the HIV signs and symptoms is the HIV's slow attack on the patient's immune system that, if untreated, can render it unable to effectively fight off challenges by infectious organisms and against any abnormal cells that may become cancerous. HIV retroviruses can infect humans when a person comes in contact with an infected individual's vagina, anal area, mouth, eyes, skin break, or IV (sharing drug needles); the infected mother may transmit HIV to the newborn. Unfortunately, HIV may be transmitted to others during the long incubation period; many infected individuals do not know they are infected during this time and unknowingly spread the virus to others.

What Are the Treatments for HIV?

The basic treatment for HIV infection, according to the NIH and others, is termed ART (antiretroviral therapy). It generally consists of daily use of the following;

  • Three antiviral drugs
  • The three drugs should come from at least two different drug classes.
  • There are seven different drug classes for your doctor to choose from.

Medical therapy should begin as soon as possible with early diagnosis and treatment (early means up to 6 months after HIV infection), which may yield best results. Although there is no cure, ART can slow or prevent HIV from its relentless progression by reducing the amount of HIV in the body and possibly reduce and/or stop transmission of HIV to others. Your doctors can decide which ART is the most likely to treat your HIV infection.

HIV & AIDS : HIV Testing & Symptoms Quiz


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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.