Symptoms of recent HIV infection
Symptoms of recent infection
Most people experience some symptoms shortly after infection with HIV. Sero-conversion illness (SCI) occurs in over 60% of men around two to six weeks after they have been infected.1 The main symptoms of sero-conversion illness are a sore throat, fever, body aches and a rash. Other common symptoms include mouth ulcers, joint pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, muscle pain and feeling overly tired or sick. Some people experience severe symptoms and some people experience very mild symptoms.
These symptoms are only linked to infection with HIV if you have put yourself at risk (such as fucking without condoms) in the last six weeks. Because these symptoms are common to other illnesses, many people do not realise that they are a sign that they have become infected with HIV.
If you have two or more of these symptoms, and have had unsafe sex in the last six weeks, it is worth visiting your doctor or GUM clinic and getting tested for HIV so that you know what your HIV status is. Different HIV tests will be appropriate, depending on how long ago your risk was.
Men who have recently been infected have very high levels of viral load which makes it more likely that HIV will be transmitted if they have unprotected sex.
If you haven’t had sex which puts you at risk of infection then these symptoms do not indicate that you have been infected with HIV. Even if you have had recent risky sex, it does not necessarily mean that those flu-like symptoms are sero-conversion illness. It could be the flu.
Symptoms of long-standing infection
After the first stages of HIV infection, it can be many years before you experience any other symptoms or ill health. However, some people do develop medical conditions as HIV wears down the immune system.
Some people notice signs of the effects of HIV infection on their immune system including swollen lymph nodes (small lumps) in the neck, armpit or groin, or fever/night sweats.
HIV can also have a profound effect on the digestive system, so in some cases people experience stomach upsets and diarrhoea more than they used to.
Symptoms associated with breathing (shortness of breath or coughs) usually occur later in the course of the HIV disease and can be a sign of bacterial pneumonia, which is common in untreated HIV infection.
Because your immune system is weakened, you may also be more prone to other viruses, fungi or bacteria which can cause rashes on the skin and sores in the mouth.
If you experience these symptoms you should test for HIV. HIV can be treated but the treatment is most likely to be effective if you are treated early. For this reason it is recommended that all sexually active gay men test at least once every year.
1 Medical Foundation for AIDS and Sexual Health (MedFASH). HIV in primary care: an essential guide for GPs, practice nurses and other members of the primary healthcare team. Medical Foundation for AIDS and Sexual Health, 2004 (revised April 2005).