The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks your body's immune system. If left untreated, it can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Early diagnosis is the key to slowing the progression of the disease.
Symptoms can vary from person to person, but knowing the first symptoms that may appear can help you receive a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
This article will discuss the different stages of HIV, how symptoms can manifest, how the tests work, and what to expect if you test positive for the virus.
What is acute HIV infection?
There are three stages of HIV infection:
- Level 1: Acute HIV infection
- Stage 2: Chronic HIV infection
- Stage 3: AIDS
Acute HIV infection is the first stage of infection. Typically, within two to four weeks after infection, two-thirds of people with HIV will experience flu symptoms. These symptoms can last for days or even weeks. However, some people may not experience any symptoms.
At this stage, your blood contains a large amount of HIV, known as a viral load . Studies have shown incredibly high viral loads during the acute phase, which means it is most infectious during this time.
When do symptoms occur?
Some people develop flu symptoms within two to four weeks after infection, but others may not feel sick or show no symptoms later.
See your doctor if you have symptoms of HIV and think you may have been infected with HIV. The only way to know for sure is to get tested for HIV.
In the United States, HIV is transmitted primarily through anal or vaginal sex and by sharing needles or syringes with an HIV-infected partner. Anal sex is the highest risk behavior.
You can prevent HIV infection by using condoms correctly every time you have sex; pre-exposure prophylaxis, a prevention method in which the HIV-negative partner takes anti-HIV medications daily to prevent HIV; and treatment as prevention, a method in which the HIV-positive partner takes HIV medications daily to achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load.
Only antigen / antibody tests or nucleic acid tests (NAT) can diagnose acute HIV infection. NAT looks for the actual virus in the blood and antigen / antibody tests look for HIV antibodies and antigens. Antibodies are produced by your immune system when you are exposed to viruses like HIV, and antigens are foreign substances that activate your immune system.
However, no test can detect HIV immediately after infection. NAT can generally tell if you have an HIV infection between 10 and 33 days after exposure, while antigen / antibody tests can detect between 18 and 45 days after exposure.
The first symptoms of HIV
The first symptoms of HIV can include:
About 13% of people living with HIV in the United States are unaware of their diagnosis. Many of these people have no symptoms. That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people in the United States, ages 13 to 64, whether or not they have symptoms, get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime. .
How to tell if the symptoms are HIV infection
There are three types of HIV tests :
- NAT involves drawing blood from a vein. It can tell you if you have HIV or how much of the virus is in your blood. Although NAT can detect HIV earlier than other types of tests, this test is very expensive and is generally not used to screen people unless they have recently been at high risk of exposure or possible exposure and have early symptoms of HIV infection. . The results of this test will be available in a few days.
- Antigen / antibody test Recommended for laboratory testing and is now widely used in the United States. It involves drawing blood from a vein and results are obtained after a few days. A rapid antigen / antibody test is also available, which is performed with a finger prick and takes 30 minutes or less to obtain results.
- HIV antibody tests look for HIV antibodies only in blood or oral fluid. In general, antibody tests using blood from a vein can detect HIV earlier after infection than tests using blood from a finger stick or oral fluid. Antibody tests can detect HIV infection between 23 and 90 days after exposure. Most rapid tests and the only currently approved self-test for HIV are antibody tests. It takes 20 minutes or less to get results.
Please note that any positive result (known as a provisional positive) will require a retest to confirm it. The only test that does not require a second confirmation test is NAT.
The time between when a person may have been infected with HIV and when the test can accurately determine if they have the virus is called the window period. The window period varies from person to person and depends on the type of test used to detect HIV. If you have been tested for HIV after possible exposure to HIV and the result is negative, you will need to be retested after the window period.
What to expect next
If you discover that you have HIV, it is important to remember that the disease can be treated. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is recommended for all people with HIV, no matter how long they have had the virus or how healthy they are. It works by reducing the amount of virus in the body to very low levels. This treatment can also slow the progression of the infection and protect the immune system.
Taking ART medications is vital to slow the progression of HIV. If left untreated, HIV will progress to stage two. At this stage, people may not experience any symptoms. If no treatment is given, a person can stay in this stage for 10 to 15 years.
People without symptoms of acute HIV infection take an average of seven years before AIDS.
Get the word of drug information
Early diagnosis is vital to slow the progression of HIV. If you are in a high-risk group, it is recommended that you get tested every three to six months. There are a number of tests available, including at-home options, so you can get your results.
The majority of people with HIV in the United States will not get AIDS, given progress in treatment options. However, commitment is everything. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have and get tested if you are concerned about being exposed.