Symptoms of AIDS and HIV Infection

Immediately following infection with HIV, most individuals develop a brief, nonspecific “viral illness” consisting of low grade fever, rash, muscle aches, headache and/or fatigue. Like any other viral illness, these symptoms resolve over a period of five to 10 days.

Then for a period of several years (sometimes as long as several decades), people infected with HIV are asymptomatic (no symptoms). However, their immune system is gradually being destroyed by the virus.

When this destruction has progressed to a critical point, symptoms of AIDS appear. These symptoms are as follows:

It can take as short as a year to as long as 10 to 15 years to go from being infected with HIV to "full-blown" AIDS.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a person is considered to have AIDS when they have a T cell count (also called CD4 cell count) of 200 or less (healthy T cell levels range from 500 to 1500) or they have an AIDS-defining condition.

The AIDS-defining conditions are:

People who are not infected with HIV may also develop these diseases; the presence of any one of these conditions does not mean the person has AIDS. To be diagnosed with AIDS, a person must be infected with HIV.

Some people infected with HIV may develop a disease that is less serious than AIDS, referred to as AIDS Related Complex (ARC). ARC is a condition caused by the AIDS virus in which the patient tests positive for AIDS infection and has a specific set of clinical symptoms.

However, ARC patients' symptoms are often less severe than those with classic AIDS because the degree of destruction of the immune system has not progressed as far as it has in patients with classic AIDS.

Symptoms of ARC may include loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, night sweats, skin rashes, diarrhea, tiredness, lack of resistance to infection or swollen lymph nodes.

Note: Not everyone who has been infected with HIV develops AIDS. Very rarely, some individuals can be infected with HIV yet maintain normal immune function and general good health even after 20 years of infection.