Jun 30, 2010
What are the symptoms of HIV?
This is a common question we receive here at Freedom Health.
According to this article on emedicine ( http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/211873-overview ) , it is thought around 70% of people who contract HIV will develop symptoms when they are seroconverting. Seroconversion is the period between exposure to the HIV virus and the completion of the initial response of your immune system. It lasts about two to three months, though the symptoms will last for a shorter period. Seroconversion is also known as acute HIV infection.
The symptoms of an HIV infection are often described as ‘flu-like,’ the most common are fever and chills, swollen glands, a sore throat (with or without ulcers), anaemia and rash, particularly on the upper body. Symptoms can also include headaches, fatigue, night sweats and weight loss and an individual recently infected with HIV may also feel nauseous, experience diarrhoea, have swollen and tender joints or a painful or stiff neck.
Many of the symptoms will disappear without the need for medical treatment.
These symptoms may be the signs of a recently acquired HIV infection, but not all HIV tests will be able to detect whether an individual is HIV positive during the period of acute HIV infection. If you have any of these symptoms and have had a risky sexual exposure you should get tested for HIV.
See our HIV testing page ( http://www.freedomhealth.co.uk/sexual-health/hiv-testing/125/ ) and also our information on novel testing methods for more information ( http://freedomhealth-co-uk.blogspot.com/2010/06/std-sti-hiv-and-hepatitis-b-and-c.html )
What happens during seroconversion?
The article (http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/211873-overview ) also gives a rough timeline of the different stages of HIV infection.
Day 0: A person is infected with the HIV virus.
From day 8: The amount of virus in the blood more than doubles every day and the CD4 cell count begins to drop as the viral load (amount of virus in the body) increases. CD4 cells are the immune cells that the HIV virus depletes over time, eventually resulting in the need for anti-retroviral medication. At this stage of the seroconversion a HIV RNA PCR test would be able to detect HIV, however traditional antibody tests would come back negative.
Week 2 - 4: The viral load peaks and can be as high as millions of copies per microlitre of blood, making the individual their most infectious. Despite the high amount of HIV virus within the body, antibody tests may still return a negative result. For this reason the sooner an HIV infection is diagnosed, the less chance there is of it unwittingly being passed on.
Week 10 – 24: The viral load will drop to its lowest point and traditional HIV antibody tests will become positive for HIV.
What happens after seroconversion?
The immune system continues its battle against the HIV virus but the depletion of CD4 cells, or T-cells as they are also known, continues as the virus replicates. This stage is known as chronic HIV infection and can continue for many years without the need for medication until it eventually would develop into AIDS. AIDS (Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is defined by a CD4 cell count of less than 200 per microlitre of blood.
The interval between seroconversion and AIDS is an average of ten years, with the CD4 count being depleted at an average rate of 50 cells per year. The speed at which the disease progresses relates to the HIV viral load - the higher the viral load the faster the progression.
Many people first become aware they are HIV positive after contracting an opportunistic infection brought on by having a low CD4 T-cell count. A low CD4 cell count leads to a serious state of immunodeficiency which puts the individual at great risk of contracting opportunistic infection, further damaging their immune system. For this reason it is agreed that the earlier a person infected with HIV knows that they are HIV positive, the better it will be for their health.
However, it is not just a weakened immune system that can cause illness; it is possible that the HIV virus itself can have a direct effect on the body, such as causing organ dysfunction.
Some symptoms that may reflect a deteriorating immune system include herpes lesions, shingles and anaemia, caused by the virus damaging the body’s marrow.
Within the chronic infection stage are a number of other stages which are based on the CD4 T-cell count. A count of more than 500 is considered the ‘early stage,’ between 200 – 500 is an ‘intermediate stage’ and a CD4 T-cell count of less than 200 is considered an ‘advanced’ stage of infection.