First Signs of HIV – Early Infection Symptoms, Risks, Other Cause

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.

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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

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 :

  • Influenza
  • H1N1 Swine Flu
  • Infectious mononucleosis
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Other illnesses, particularly viral infections.

Skin Diseases/Conditions Similar To HIV Rash

  • Acne
  • Adverse drug reaction
  • Chickenpox
  • Herpes simplex
  • Herpes zoster (shingles)
  • Folliculitis
  • Impetigo
  • Pruritis (itchy skin)
  • Psoriasis
  • Scabies
  • Syphilis

There may be other skin conditions that will also resemble this rash.

Mouth Diseases/Conditions Similar to HIV Mouth Sores

  • Aphthous ulcers
  • Gingivitis
  • Herpes simplex
  • Herpes zoster
  • Leukoplakia
  • Oral thrush
  • Syphilis

There are other orodental conditions that may cause similar mouth sores.

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  • midge

    is it possible to have 4 symptoms of hiv nd nt have the virus

    if so what other possible illnesses could it be…?
    The symptoms are:
    headaches
    spitting blood not coughing
    mouth sores
    lumps on a tongue

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Midge

    Yes, most definitely you can have these symptoms without it being due to HIV. There are a number of causes of these symptoms but I don’t think you should attempt to self-diagnose without seeing a medical doctor first. If you have not had an HIV test, never assume that you are not positive. Even people in a committed relationship are surprised to discover their status. Please speak to your doctor.

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  • Ahmed Moore Ibrahim

    Pls help me, I had unprotected sex with my gf, a week after the sex, I started feeling weird, my my stomach started making funny noice, I also had a swollen nymph gland, headache and I fee my throat is full. And meanwhile, this same gf once had an infection 2 yrs ago dat made her stomach make noice, is it that it’s the infection I have or it’s a sign of hiv. Am rili scarf of getting hiv, my blood pressure has gone up bcos of this feeling of testing hiv, so do you think am positive

  • Hi Ahmed. There is no way that we can say whether you are HIV positive or not. The very first signs and symptoms are vague and often not indicative of HIV. Many infections can cause these symptoms, and even if it is not an STI. The only way to know for sure is to get test for HIV. Speak to your doctor as well because these symptoms may due to conditions other than HIV.