The Body: Rick Sowadsky M.S.P.H., C.D.S, Answers to Safe Sex Questions
Jan 22, 1997
Dear Sir, Thank you for considering my question. I understand that there may be flu like symptoms associated with early infection, usually 2-4 weeks after infection. Is the symptomatic stage (ie night sweats, weight loss, etc) that I often hear about also associated with early infection, or is it something that develops over a period of time. Could you please give me some information on the symptomatic stage.... Thank you.
| Response from Mr. Sowadsky
Hi. Thank you for your question.
Chronic symptoms such as drenching night sweats, weight loss, etc. are usually not seen until an average of 10 years after infection. These types of symptoms are not seen after recent HIV infection. The following information compares the symptoms of both recent HIV infection, and the symptoms due to full-blown AIDS. You will note that the symptoms of AIDS itself tend to be chronic, long-term and can recur over and over. This differs from the symptoms of recent HIV infection, which are acute, only last for a week or two, and do NOT recur over and over.
When we're talking about symptoms, it's important to remember that there are actually 2 periods of time when one may show symptoms.
Within the first 4-6 weeks after infection, some people with HIV (up to 70%) show symptoms due to "Acute Viral Syndrome". This occurs during your bodies initial response against the virus. During this time, a person may show symptoms that look exactly like the flu (headaches, body aches, fevers, fatigue etc.). A rash is sometimes seen, primarily in the upper portion of the body. The rash may or may not itch, and can be raised. There is no such thing as an "HIV/AIDS rash", and if a rash is seen at all, it resembles rashes seen from many other skin conditions. All of the symptoms last for a week or two, then go away by themselves. They do NOT persist for many weeks or months. In some people with Acute Viral Syndrome, the symptoms can be very severe. In other people with HIV, these symptoms may be very mild. In still other people with HIV, they may not show these symptoms at all. A person may, or may not, show positive on an HIV test during this period of time. I must strongly emphasize here that ALL of the symptoms of Acute Viral Syndrome look exactly like the symptoms of other illnesses, so having flu symptoms or a rash does NOT indicate HIV infection, in of itself. It is also important to remember that not all people will get Acute Viral Syndrome, and in those that do get it, the severity can vary significantly from person to person. Because Acute Viral Syndrome looks exactly like the symptoms of many other illnesses, NOBODY can tell you whether your symptoms are due to this syndrome or not. Only HIV testing can determine if a person has HIV or not.
In regard to the symptoms related to full blown AIDS itself, they don't usually begin until literally years after infection. Before that time, a person can look and feel totally healthy with no symptoms at all. As for the specific symptoms of AIDS, there are no specific symptoms you could list. This is because AIDS is actually a group of diseases, and therefore you're dealing with groups of symptoms. Because AIDS is actually a group of diseases, there are literally dozens and dozens of different symptoms. Not everyone with AIDS has every disease and therefore not everyone has every symptom. Every symptom of AIDS looks like the symptoms of other illnesses. There are no symptoms that are unique to AIDS. Symptoms can include severe w eight loss, fevers, drenching night sweats, fatigue, purple-colored blotches on the skin, severe headaches, severe diarrhea, and the list goes on and on. Generally the symptoms tend to last for many weeks or months at a time, and do not go away by themselves (not without treatment). They can also recur over and over. Notice how this differs from the symptoms of Acute Viral Syndrome, which only lasts for a week or two, and do NOT recur over and over. AIDS symptoms are ongoing and can be very severe. AIDS related symptoms do not begin until an average of 10 years after infection. You can have HIV and even full blown AIDS and have no symptoms at all!
Generally speaking, if you have any symptoms that last for more than 1 to 2 weeks and do not go away, or if you have any symptoms that are very severe, always seek medical attention, regardless of what you think the problem is. You can't assume any symptom is HIV/AIDS related until you get laboratory tests. Remember, every symptom related to HIV/AIDS looks like the symptoms of other illnesses. Therefore symptoms alone cannot determine whether a person has HIV or not. That's why laboratory testing is so important.
Also, if a person tests negative at the time that they are showing symptoms, that indicates that their symptoms are not AIDS related. A person first shows positive on the test (by 6 months after infection), and then later shows symptoms (an average of 10 years after infection). So if a person tests negative at the time that they're showing symptoms, that indicates that the symptoms are not AIDS related.
I hope this cleared things up between the symptoms of recent HIV infection, and the symptoms of full-blown AIDS.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).
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