Early Symptoms of HIV Infection
If you recently had unprotected sex or potentially exposed yourself to HIV in another way, such as sharing needles for drug use, and you have developed new symptoms, you may have concerns that you contracted the virus. Engaging in high risk activities means that this is a possibility, but the only way to be sure is to take a test for HIV. This is because the early signs of HIV are shared by a range of other conditions, some of which are also sexually transmitted, so it is important you receive an accurate diagnosis. Even if you have no symptoms, you should still strongly consider taking an HIV test, as you may miss the first signs of HIV infection, putting these changes in your body down to another cause. The sooner you take an HIV test, the sooner you can have peace of mind and start prompt treatment if you test positive for the infection.
Early HIV Symptoms
The first symptoms of HIV are often described as flu-like, as you could easily mistake them for those you get with influenza. With HIV flu like symptoms include a high temperature, sore throat, aching muscles and joints, swollen glands and tiredness. However, these are not the only early HIV symptoms; rash across the body is also common and you may experience headaches too. Unlike the flu though, these signs of infection may last for as long as four weeks, but after they disappear it usually takes years before you develop any further HIV symptoms. During this asymptomatic period the virus multiplies within your body and damages your immune system, even though you are unaware that anything is wrong.
HIV No Symptoms
Although initial signs of illness will usually appear a few weeks after infection with HIV, around 20% of people do not develop any symptoms in the early stages. This lack of symptoms doesn’t mean that your immune system has been able to destroy the virus though, so the infection will still progress in the same way as in someone who develops early stage HIV symptoms. Therefore if you know you have placed yourself at possible risk of contracting this STD, you should take an HIV test to be certain.
HIV Early Detection Test
Prompt diagnosis allows you to begin treatment earlier, but testing for HIV relies on detecting the antibodies you produced against the virus. Your body typically takes between two and eight weeks to generate HIV antibodies, though sometimes this can take as long as twelve weeks or more. During this time if you take an HIV screening test there is a risk that no antibodies will be found and you will get a false negative result. Bearing this in mind you should not take the test for HIV too early and should discuss when you were likely infected with your HIV testing center. However, if you do receive a negative test result and you are skeptical of this, you should book a follow-up HIV test for three months time. With a positive HIV test result you will still need a further test to confirm the result.
As the symptoms you may experience are not unique to HIV and fatigue, fever, swollen lymph nodes, muscle pain and headaches are also signs of genital herpes and hepatitis B, you should also get tested for these STIs at the same time.
Early HIV Treatment
If testing reveals you are HIV positive, your doctor will arrange regular blood tests to check levels of the white blood cell CD4, as this is the type of immune cell that the virus attacks. You will not usually start treatment till your CD4 count falls below a certain level, though your specialist may recommend you begin medication for HIV sooner under certain circumstances. For example, if you have already developed ill-health as a result of the infection, you test positive for hepatitis B or hepatitis C, or you are pregnant, you will begin HIV drugs earlier.
The aim of HIV treatment is to control the number of virus particles, preserve your immune function and delay the onset of HIV-related health problems. Drugs for HIV also reduce the likelihood that you will pass the infection on to others, though even when taking anti-retroviral drugs you should still practice safe sex and take other measure to prevent transmitting the virus. To benefit from this treatment you must first confirm your HIV status, so do not delay taking an STD test.