Stages of HIV/AIDS
Stage 1 – Primary Infection
Within 2-4 weeks of HIV infection many people experience flu-like symptoms. Symptoms of this primary HIV infection may include a fever, which is the most common, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, or rash.
NOTE – Do not rely on symptoms alone to diagnose HIV. Not every individual will experience symptoms so it is important to get tested.
Stage 2 – Latency
The clinical latency stage, aka asymptomatic, of the virus developing follows the initial infection. The latency stage period can vary depending on whether or not treatments are used. The use of treatments can hold off the development into Stage 3.
NOTE – During the latency phase a person may not experience HIV-related symptoms but they can still transmit the virus to others.
Stage 3 – Progression towards AIDS
Without medication, the progression from the latency stage to the diagnosis stage of the HIV infection is probable. The virus will then weaken the immune system, which may lead to AIDS developing.
Symptoms of this progression stage of HIV infection include rapid weight loss, extreme and unexpected tiredness, pneumonia, sores on the mouth, anus, or genitals, memory loss, depression, or other neurological symptoms, prolonged swelling of the lymph nodes, and pain – may increase as an individual progresses towards AIDS.
A large portion of the symptoms in the progression stage that are associated with the HIV infection come from opportunistic infections. A list of opportunistic infections and more information about the stages of HIV can be found at
The following link leads to a map of how prevalent HIV is in different regions in the United States.
Testing for HIV is done through a blood, urine, or oral sample. A blood test is the most common with more accurate results. Oral samples have a lower sensitivity than blood tests and urine tests are the least accurate.
Locations to get tested can be found by using the CDC’s HIV Test Locator.
Know that you’ll be okay. A follow up test will be done to verify the diagnosis. You should make an appointment to see a health care provider to stay healthy and possibly begin treatments. Be sure to get tested for STIs and take measures to prevent them.
Talk to your healthcare provider or look into a Tuberculosis test and a Hepatitis C test. Discuss the use of cigarettes, the impact of drinking and the use of illegal drugs after testing positive. Be aware of possible risks for you and your partner as well.
For any other frequently asked questions please visit the CDC website.
Be cautious even if the test comes back negative. There is a window period after exposure but before tests are able to detect HIV so another test should be done if you believe you have engaged in high risk behaviors with someone who has HIV. Check the CDC website for window periods on different tests and for recommendations.
Click here for HIV basics from the CDC. The page also provides detailed information about the different tests used to detect HIV.
What Does Having HIV Actually Mean?
A person living with HIV today can go on to live long and productive lives as long as he/she takes steps to manage his/her infection.
HIV is a chronic illness that can be managed with daily medication, regular laboratory testing and physician, and healthy lifestyle changes (exercise, smoking cessation, adequate sleep, etc.).
How is HIV Harmful?
HIV is a virus that spreads by attacking and killing healthy cells in the body. It spans throughout the body, destroying cells or forcing them to duplicate with the infection.
Specifically, HIV targets immune system cells, known as T-cells. T-cells fight off infection by killing cells that have been infected by germs and as more T-cells start dying, the immune system is left compromised. If the number of T-cells drops significantly the risk of infection increases leading to the acquisition of AIDS.
The most common way for HIV to be transmitted is through sexual contact, but infected mothers are able to pass it on to their children. Avoid transmission of blood, semen or vaginal fluid of sexual partners who are HIV–positive. Do not share needles or syringes and make sure to use protection for any sexual contact.
When in a relationship where both partners are not HIV positive, know the risk of transmitting the infection and what steps can be taken to reduce the chance. Being treated with antiretroviral medications can control the infection and reduce the likelihood of transmission. PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), when taken if you are HIV-negative, reduces the risk of being infected if exposed to HIV. There are also certain sexual activities that involve a higher risk of transmitting HIV than others.
One can achieve viral suppression, or low level of HIV in your blood by taking ART regularly. This does not mean that the virus is completely gone, but that there is a decreased and lower amount of HIV in the body. When having sex with someone who is virally suppressed, still take precautions in using protection and condoms even though the risk of transmission is low. If one’s HIV viral load is undetectable then there is hardly any HIV in the blood.
There are Complementary and Alternative Therapies that can be chosen if an alternative or drug free treatment is preferred. For more information on CAM please click here.
You are not alone!
There are many support groups and counseling services available for patients, family members and friends. Below are some links that can help you find testing centers, financial and educational services, legal counsel, and more. Do not hesitate to seek out help. While intimidating at first, there are trained professionals and volunteers who can help you figure out what to do every step of the way.
Mental Health Resources
People with HIV have an increased risk of acquiring mental health conditions. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a mental health disability or think that you may have one, please see a doctor immediately.
Below is a link that can help you locate a mental health clinic in your area.