HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a dangerous infection that impairs the immune system and can leave people vulnerable to other infections and diseases, especially if the HIV infection has progressed to its final stage — AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
In 2015, an estimated 1.1 million people in the United States were living with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (1)
Alarmingly, about 15 percent of HIV-positive people in 2015 didn’t even know they had it, the CDC notes.
This is partly because the virus initially only produces symptoms that could easily be confused with other health issues, if it causes any symptoms at all.
In fact, some people go 10 years or more without having any HIV-related symptoms after contracting the virus. (2)
Early-Stage Symptoms of HIV Infection
Many people — between 40 and 90 percent — experience flu-like symptoms within two to four weeks after contracting HIV. (2) Known as acute retroviral syndrome (ARS) or primary HIV infection, these symptoms are the body’s natural response to the HIV infection.
Fever (the most common symptom)
Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and groin area (swollen glands)
Mouth sores, including thrush (an oral yeast infection)
Various types of rashes
Aches and pains in the muscles and joints
Some people describe ARS as the “worst flu ever,” according to HIV.gov. (3)
During this very early period, HIV infection may not be detected by testing. This is because most HIV tests look for antibodies rather than the virus itself (the proteins your body generates in reaction to the presence of a virus), but it can take a few weeks for these antibodies to be produced. Most rapid tests and home tests are antibody tests. (2,4)
People who have contracted the virus are highly infectious at this early stage, even if they show no symptoms, because the levels of HIV in their blood are extremely high. (3)