The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a type of virus that attacks the cells - specifically the CD4 T cells - of your immune system. As more and more CD4 cells are killed by the virus, your body gradually loses the ability to fight off diseases and infections.

Currently, there is no cure for HIV. Once you get it, you have it for life. There are, however, some antiretroviral therapy treatments available to control the spread of HIV but early detection is key.

So, what are the signs and symptoms of HIV? Read on to find out.

How Do You Get HIV?

HIV was first identified in 1981. It’s one of humanity’s most persistent diseases, and it can be deadly too. Because there’s no cure or vaccine available for the virus, not getting infected should be your number one priority.

HIV is transmitted through direct contact with certain body fluids of an infected person. These fluids include blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. You can only acquire HIV if these fluids get into your bloodstream through open cuts, direct injection, or through the mucus membrane found at the tip of the penis, mouth, vagina, and rectum.

In the UK, the most common way of transmitting HIV from one person to another involves:

  • Anal or vaginal sex with a HIV positive person without wearing a condom or taking HIV medicine. Compared to vaginal sex, anal sex is riskier.
  • Sharing injections with someone who has HIV.

The less common ways:

  • Mother-to-child transmission through pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.
  • Getting stuck with a HIV-contaminated needle (commonly for health care workers).

In extremely rare cases, HIV may also be transmitted by:

  • Oral sex
  • Blood transfusion, organ or tissue transplant
  • Contact between broken skin or wounds

What Are The Symptoms Of HIV?

HIV symptoms vary from one person to another. Upon infection, it usually takes 2-4 weeks before you can feel any symptoms of HIV. According to studies, about 80% of infected individuals will have flu-like symptoms. HIV symptoms may take years to appear.

The virus infects the body in stages. For clarity, we will list down the signs and symptoms of HIV according to the stage the virus is in.

HIV symptoms in men

Around 80% of HIV cases are men. The virus is more prevalent among men who engage in sexual practices with men (gay men and bisexuals). HIV is also racially common among black heterosexual men.

Stage Symptoms
Acute (new infection)

Common Symptoms:

  • Skin rash
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Severe headaches

Less Common Symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweat
  • Joint pain and muscle aches
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Ulcers on the genitals
  • Vomiting
Asymptomatic or Dormant During this stage, the symptoms of HIV disappear. The virus may remain dormant for months or even years. During this stage, the virus is still actively replicating and attacking your immune cells and can still be transmitted to others.

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)

Advanced stage of infection

Depending on the person, it may take months or years for HIV to enter its advanced stage. During this stage, the damage caused by the virus to your immune system is beyond repair, leaving you more susceptible to opportunistic illnesses and infections.

Symptoms of men with AIDS include:

  • Persistent diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Memory loss, confusion
  • Coughing
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Recurring fevers, chills, night sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Ulcers or sores in the mouth or on the genitals
  • Persistent swelling of lymph nodes

HIV symptoms in women

Most women get HIV from their male partners while others get infected through intravenous drug use.

Stage Symptoms
Acute (new infection)

Common Symptoms:

  • Skin rash
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Severe headaches

Less Common Symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweat
  • Joint pain and muscle aches
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Vaginal infections (yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, etc.)
  • Vomiting
Asymptomatic or Dormant During this stage, the symptoms of HIV disappear. The virus may remain dormant for months or years. During this stage, the virus is still actively replicating and attacking your immune cells and can still be transmitted to others.

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)

Advanced stage of infection

Depending on the person, it may take months or years for HIV to enter its advanced stage. During this stage, the damage caused by the virus to your immune system is beyond repair, leaving you more susceptible to opportunistic illnesses and infections.

Symptoms of men with AIDS include:

  • Persistent diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Memory loss, confusion
  • Coughing
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Recurring fevers, chills, night sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Ulcers or sores in the mouth
  • Vaginal infections (yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, etc.)
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Persistent swelling of lymph nodes
  • Changes in your menstrual cycle
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer is left untreated

Testing For HIV

HIV symptoms may take months or years to appear and you can easily mistake them for the flu. The best and only way to know if you are infected with HIV is to get yourself tested. Knowing your status means you can take precautionary measures to keep you and your sexual partners healthy.

Early diagnosis also gives you access to several HIV medicines which help control the virus in your body so you can live a long, healthy, and happy life.

Get yourself tested for HIV if:

  • You have had unprotected sex
  • You have multiple sex partners
  • You share needles
  • You’ve been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted illness
  • You are worried about your status

You can get a HIV testing kit from Express Pharmacy which will be delivered discreetly to your doorstep. Our testing kits are 99.7% accurate and you’ll get your results within minutes.