What Are Common Symptoms of HIV?

Reviewed on 2/15/2022

Man holding a red HIV/AIDS ribbon in his open hands
Common early symptoms of HIV include fever, swollen lymph nodes, flu-like symptoms, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, joint pain, skin rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, weight loss, dry cough, and painful open sores or ulcers (mouth, esophagus, anus, or penis).

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. If HIV infection is not treated, the body is unable to fight infections or cancer as well as healthy people, and people who have HIV can become sick easily. 

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the late stage of HIV infection. HIV medicines are available that can stop the progression of the disease so most people infected with HIV in the U.S. do not develop AIDS.

Early HIV Symptoms

Early symptoms of HIV, also called primary or acute HIV infection, usually occur two to four weeks after infection with the virus, last about two weeks, are usually mild, and people often don’t even realize they have HIV yet. Common early symptoms of HIV may include: 

Late-Stage HIV Symptoms

After several years, if not treated, other symptoms of HIV may develop, including:

  • Swelling of lymph nodes, usually in the neck, armpit, or groin
  • Stomach pain
  • Opportunistic infections
    • Candidiasis of the mouth (oral thrush
      • Mouth soreness
      • Raised, white patches in the mouth
    • Lung infections 
      • Shortness of breath
    • Brain infections
    • Eye infections 
      • Blurred vision
      • Difficulty seeing 

How Is HIV Transmitted?

HIV is caused by exposure to the human immunodeficiency virus. The virus is transmitted via blood or through sexual intercourse and exposure to bodily fluids (such as semen or vaginal fluids) from a person with HIV. HIV infection is NOT spread by casual contact.

HIV infection can occur if a person:

  • Has unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex (without using a condom) with a person who has HIV
    • This is the main way people become infected with HIV
  • Shares needles or syringes with a person infected with HIV
  • A pregnant woman can transmit HIV to her baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding
    • Not common due to the use of HIV medications during and after pregnancy

Risk factors for getting infected with HIV include:

  • Being a sexual partner of a person infected with HIV
  • Having unprotected sex with multiple partners
  • Drug users who share needles or “works”
  • Exchanging sex for money or drugs or having sex partners who do
  • A history of a sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Men having sex with other men
  • Being a victim of sexual assault 
  • Being accidentally stuck with a needle or sharp in a health care facility
  • People who received a blood transfusion or other blood products before 1984 (blood products were not routinely screened for HIV prior to 1984)

Is HIV Curable?

While HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is not curable, treatment with different combinations of antiretroviral medicines help to control the infection.

HIV Medications

Early HIV infection is usually treated with one of the following antiretroviral therapy (ART) regimens: 


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Reviewed on 2/15/2022
Image Source: iStock Images