When first cases were reported in the 1980s, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) had no cure, and was frequently fatal. Although it’s still a lifelong disease, HIV is no longer a death sentence. Advancements in medicine have made it possible for people with the disease to live much longer, but getting the right treatment as soon as you can is an important step in managing your health and symptoms.
In honor of World AIDS Day this December, here’s what you should know about the earliest signs of HIV.
Common Early Symptoms of HIV
HIV is a virus that attacks your body’s immune system, making it difficult to fight off infection. It’s broken down into three stages: acute HIV, chronic HIV, and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Treating HIV in its early stages can prevent it from transitioning into AIDS, which can be deadly.
The challenge is that symptoms of HIV often go unnoticed. For many people, early symptoms feel very similar to getting the flu, so they don’t always visit their doctor to get tested. In its first two stages, HIV often comes with symptoms like:
- Mouth sores
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Sore throat
- Aches and pains
While it’s easy to mistake these symptoms for signs of another viral infection, it’s important to see your doctor if they linger for more than a week or so.
How Can You Tell HIV Symptoms Apart from Other Viruses?
The primary illness caused by HIV develops two to four weeks after the virus enters the body. Some people experience a flu-like illness lasting several weeks, while others may have no symptoms or only mild effects, even though the amount of virus within the bloodstream is typically high at this time. As the virus continues to multiply, you may begin to develop more frequent or uncommon infections.
For example, you may develop an oral yeast infection known as thrush. Symptoms include white patches, redness, cracks, and discomfort in your mouth, along with loss of taste. Poor oral hygiene and certain medications can cause thrush, and it can also occur in people with other diseases that affect their immune system. Therefore we advise you to make an appointment to discuss potential underlying factors with your doctor, including whether you should be tested for HIV.
“Since HIV prevents your immune system from working as well as it should,” says Dr. Avantika Varma, Medical Director of HIV Services at YourTown Health, “other illnesses may also become more severe.” For example, a normal cold may progress into a more serious infection like pneumonia. If you feel as if you’ve been getting sicker than usual or have been coming down with illnesses more often, talk to your doctor. Similarly, if you’ve lost weight without trying to, it may be a sign of HIV or another medical issue.
While the earliest symptoms of HIV can be confused with other conditions, the providers from YourTown Health can get to the bottom of any unfamiliar developments in your health. Our caring team offers testing services and can answer any question you have.