What are the early symptoms of HIV infection?
Despite increased awareness about HIV, AIDS and the risks of unprotected sex, many people don’t know what the early symptoms of HIV are. While the chances of contracting the virus are still relatively low, it’s important to be aware of possible symptoms, particularly if you’ve recently had sex without a condom.
However, part of the problem is that around a third of people who contract the virus will not display any early symptoms at all. In fact, many live with HIV for years without realising that they are infected. Of course, the earlier the infection is diagnosed with an HIV test, the better the chances of treatment.
What does HIV do to the body?
HIV is a virus which, in its advanced form, can lead to the terminal condition AIDS (Acquired Immuno Deficiency Virus). It attacks cells in the body which fight infection – leaving you more vulnerable to disease. A person infected with HIV will not necessarily develop AIDS. By the late stages of HIV, symptoms are pronounced and can have a debilitating effect on the sufferer.
However, in its early stages, HIV is known as primary HIV infection. Symptoms usually appear a couple of weeks after exposure and may only last for a short time.
Early signs to look out for:
Early stage HIV can share many of the same symptoms as common conditions (such as the flu or glandular fever). The key is to work out whether you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms following recent unprotected sex:
– Sore and dry throat
– Headache and high fever
– Feeling fatigued and lacking in energy
– Pain in the joints, muscles and lower back
– Feeling nauseous and having a low appetite
– Swollen glands (particularly in the neck and armpits)
– Rash on the chest and occasionally arms
As mentioned above, although around 60% of people infected with HIV will show symptoms, many others will not.
If you suspect that you may have contracted HIV, don’t panic. Your chances of infection are low – almost zero if you have been using condoms during sex.
However, if you’re concerned, or if you show symptoms a few weeks after unprotected sex, then it’s important to test for HIV (not the same as an AIDS test). If symptoms disappear after a few days this doesn’t mean that you’re all clear. Often people will experience the initial signs and then show no other outward symptoms until years later. By that time the infection may have developed in your body and become harder to treat.
Clinics such as Freedom Health in London offer HIV testing that can detect the virus as early as 10 days after infection. You can also find treatment such as Post Exposure Prophylaxis. This is a one month course of anti-HIV medication aimed at those who believe they may have recently been exposed to the virus.