Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may not always produce symptoms immediately after exposure. In some cases there is no obvious signs or symptoms (asymptomatic) and a person will only discover their HIV status after having a test (First HIV Test) or as the disease progresses.
However, in most cases of acute HIV infection , there are vague symptoms within the first 1 to 6 weeks after exposure. These signs and symptoms may be considered vague or non-specific because it resembles the presentation of many other common diseases, particularly viral infections like the flu (seasonal influenza). An HIV test is the only way to conclusively diagnose HIV infection.
Early HIV Infection Signs and Symptoms
- Sore throat
- Swollen neck lymph nodes (cervical lymphadenopathy). Swelling of the groin and/or armpit lymph nodes may also be an early sign.
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Mouth sores
These signs and symptoms may be so mild that a person may ignore the symptoms altogether or attribute it to the common cold or a bout of the flu. It can last for a few days or persist for weeks and may be accompanied by fatigue, a general feeling of being ‘unwell’ and a lack of appetite.
HIV Infection – Risk of Transmission
The presence of any of these signs and symptoms in the event of known risk factors should always alert a person to the possibility of HIV infection. The risk factors include :
- Sexual contact, irrespective of whether a condom was used or not, burst or remained intact or whether you are in a committed relationship. Having multiple partners or sexual contact with an HIV-positive person increases the risk.
- Intravenous drug use (narcotics like heroin) where needles are shared. IV drug users may sometimes not be aware of shared needle use during the drug ‘high’.
- Blood transfusion. While most countries have instituted strict regulations and testing methods with regards to blood products, the risk is still fairly significant in developing nations. Travelers abroad who had a blood transfusion in a developing country need to be cautious.
- Breastfeeding infants or consumption of breast milk from an HIV positive woman.
- Pregnancy where a pregnant woman is HIV positive. The use of antiretrovirals may reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to the unborn baby (mother-child transmission). However breastfeeding should not be considered.
Other Diseases That May Cause Early HIV Symptoms
The presence of the first signs and symptoms of HIV may not always be due to HIV infection. These signs and symptoms are non-specific and your doctor may consider HIV infection as a differential diagnosis. This means that while HIV is suspected, it cannot be confirmed until further testing is done. There are other conditions which may also be considered as a differential diagnosis :
- H1N1 Swine Flu
- Infectious mononucleosis
- Rheumatic fever
- Other illnesses, particularly viral infections.
Skin Diseases/Conditions Similar To HIV Rash
- Adverse drug reaction
- Herpes simplex
- Herpes zoster (shingles)
- Pruritis (itchy skin)
There may be other skin conditions that will also resemble this rash.
Mouth Diseases/Conditions Similar to HIV Mouth Sores
- Aphthous ulcers
- Herpes simplex
- Herpes zoster
- Oral thrush
There are other orodental conditions that may cause similar mouth sores.
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on August 3, 2013