Within a month or two of HIV entering the body, 40% to 90% of people experience flulike symptoms known as acute retroviral syndrome (ARS). But sometimes HIV symptoms don’t appear for years—sometimes even a decade—after infection.
“In the early stages of HIV infection, the most common symptoms are none,” says Michael Horberg, MD, director of HIV/AIDS for Kaiser Permanente, in Oakland, Calif. One in five people in the United States with HIV doesn’t know they have it, which is why it’s so important to get tested, especially if you have unprotected sex with more than one partner or use intravenous drugs.
Here are some signs that you may be HIV-positive.
One of the first signs of ARS can be a mild fever, up to about 102 degrees F.
The fever, if it occurs at all, is often accompanied by other usually mild symptoms, such as fatigue, swollen lymph glands, and a sore throat.
“At this point the virus is moving into the blood stream and starting to replicate in large numbers,” says Carlos Malvestutto, MD, instructor of infectious diseases and immunology in the department of medicine at NYU School of Medicine in New York City. “As that happens, there is an inflammatory reaction by the immune system.”
The inflammatory response generated by your besieged immune system also can cause you to feel tired and lethargic. Fatigue can be both an early and later sign of HIV.
Ron, 54, a public relations executive in the Midwest, started to worry about his health when he suddenly got winded just walking. “Everything I did, I got out of breath,” he says. “Before that I had been walking three miles a day.”
Ron had tested HIV positive 25 years before feeling so tired; fatigue during acute, or newly contracted, HIV might not be so obvious.