HIV-Positive without Symptoms
Many people who are HIV-positive do not have symptoms of HIV infection. Often people only begin to feel sick when they progress toward AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). Sometimes people living with HIV go through periods of being sick and then feel fine.
While the virus itself can sometimes cause people to feel sick, most of the severe symptoms and illnesses of HIV disease come from the opportunistic infections that attack a damaged immune system. It is important to remember that some symptoms of HIV infection are similar to symptoms of many other common illnesses, such as the flu, or respiratory or gastrointestinal infections.
Early Stages of HIV: Signs and Symptoms
As early as 2-4 weeks after exposure to HIV (but up to 3 months later), people can experience an acute illness, often described as “the worst flu ever.” This is called acute retroviral syndrome (ARS), or primary HIV infection, and it’s the body’s natural response to HIV infection. During primary HIV infection, there are higher levels of virus circulating in the blood, which means that people can more easily transmit the virus to others.
Symptoms can include:
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Ulcers in the mouth
It is important to remember, however, that not everyone gets ARS when they become infected with HIV. For more information, see NIH’s Acute HIV Infection.
Chronic Phase or Latency: Signs and Symptoms
After the initial infection and seroconversion, the virus becomes less active in the body, although it is still present. During this period, many people do not have any symptoms of HIV infection. This period is called the “chronic” or “latency” phase. This period can last up to 10 years—sometimes longer.
AIDS: Signs and Symptoms
When HIV infection progresses to AIDS, many people begin to suffer from fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, night sweats, and even wasting syndrome at late stages. Many of the signs and symptoms of AIDS come from opportunistic infections which occur in patients with a damaged immune system. For more information, see NIH’s AIDS.
Fact Sheets & Print Materials
Related Topics on AIDS.gov
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there one symptom or common illness that everyone with HIV/AIDS has?
No. Although many people living with HIV/AIDS have similar illnesses or health conditions (like swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, etc.), there is no one condition that everyone with HIV shares.
Last revised: 06/06/2012