When Charlie Sheen recently broke the news of his HIV-positive status on American television, the world sat up and took note.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1.2 million people are currently HIV-infected in the U.S., and as many as 12.8 percent (1 in 8 people) remain unaware of their infection.
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. This virus destroys the CD4 cells, also called T cells, of the immune system.
If not medically treated, HIV poses the threat of progressing to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS is a deadly disease that severely undermines the immune system to the point of failure, leaving it unable to fight fatal infections and cancers.
HIV is most commonly transmitted through semen, pre-seminal discharge, anal discharge, vaginal discharge and blood.
The most common ways the HIV virus may enter your body are through high-risk sexual behavior and exposure through injection or infusion.
HIV Exposure Through Sexual Behavior
- Engaging in intercourse with an HIV-infected person – anal intercourse is the first, and vaginal intercourse is the second highest-risk sexual behavior for HIV transmission.
- Engaging in unprotected intercourse with multiple partners – this can lead to other sexually transmitted infections, making you more susceptible to contracting the HIV virus through intercourse.
- Engaging in transactional intercourse (intercourse in exchange for money)– this typically involves multiple partners and high-risk sexual behavior.
HIV Exposure Through Injection or Infusion
- Sharing drug-injecting equipment (syringes, needles and rinsing water) with an HIV-infected person can infect you, too.
- Sharing drug-preparation equipment with an HIV-infected person can also infect you.
- Health care workers are at a high risk of accidentally being struck with an HIV-infected needle.
- Using needles or syringes bought off street sellers can infect you with HIV, as these sellers often repackage used needles and syringes and sell them as new items.
- HIV-contaminated blood transfusions or organ and tissue transplants also raise the risk of spreading HIV.
Once infected with HIV, it is not possible to get rid of it.
However, with early identification of common symptoms, proper medical treatment and a healthy lifestyle, it is possible for an HIV-positive person to lead a long and productive life.
Symptoms of an HIV infection may start presenting themselves 2 to 6 weeks after it is contracted.
Here are 10 early sign and symptoms of HIV that you must know.
The most common primary symptom of an HIV infection is a fever.
A fever during the initial HIV stage is likely to be recurrent and persists for 2 to 4 weeks at a time. Night sweats often accompany infection-associated fevers.
According to a 2005 study published in Praxis, 77 percent of 62 patients of primary HIV infection reported being affected by fever, establishing it as the primary symptom of the condition.
Since fevers are the immune system’s response to viral infections, getting a fever in the early stages of HIV is a good sign. It proves your immune system has not weakened yet.
2. Night Sweats
If you are unable to sleep because you just cannot stop sweating, and you have recently engaged in any of the previously described high-risk behaviors, it might be a cause for concern.
HIV-induced night sweats occur persistently and without exertion. They may drench your clothes and sheets and may be nearly impossible to sleep through.
A subject diagnosed with early HIV who engaged in unprotected anal intercourse with multiple partners reported night sweats as a commonly occurring symptom, according to a 2015 study published in “Clinical Infectious Diseases”.
Night sweats usually accompany a fever in HIV patients.
3. Sore Throat
A sore throat is another common symptom of early HIV. It is highly likely to accompany a fever in HIV-positive patients.
A sore throat may occur before the onset of fever as an indicative sign in many patients.
A sore throat was identified as one of the severe symptoms of primary HIV infection in 74 infected prostitutes, according to a 2002 study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases.
You may experience pain swallowing food and water as well as your own saliva.
Your sore throat may last up to 2 weeks at a stretch and may be accompanied by mouth ulcers.
4. Swollen Lymph Nodes
Immune system cells are spread throughout the body. One of the primary locations for their distribution is the lymph nodes.
Lymph nodes are found in the neck, under the armpits and in the groin area.
Since the main task of HIV cells is weakening the immune system, they identify the key immunity-boosting parts of the body and attack them. This includes the lymph nodes.
The swelling of the lymph nodes is your body’s way of telling you that your immune system is working hard to minimize the damage caused by the HIV infection.
Out of 54 patients affected with HIV, 30 patients (55.5 percent) reported swelling of the lymph nodes (reactive hyperplasia), according to a 2002 study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Microbiology.
Lymph nodes are painful and tender to the touch. They can frequently appear and disappear. It is a cause for concern if swelling persists longer than 2 to 4 weeks.
5. Rashes and Seborrheic Dermatitis
Seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp, face and chest, is one of the earliest symptoms of HIV, according to a 2008 study published in Acta Dermatovenerol Croatia.
The prevalence of seborrheic dermatitis ranges between 30 and 83 percent in patients of early HIV infection, the study further notes.
Sebaceous glands are mainly located in the face, head, chest, upper back and groin area. An early symptom of HIV is the appearance of red, inflamed, itchy and flaky skin around these regions that may last 2 to 3 weeks or more.
In a 2005 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine, primary HIV case studies were selected from a range of medical surveys.
The average age-range for patients was between 17 and 54 years and all the patients exhibited all the primary symptoms of an HIV infection. Among these, a rash was the second most-commonly reported symptom by all the patients.
6. Muscle Pain (Myalgia) and Joint Pain (Arthralgias)
While these conditions are present throughout the trajectory of the disease, they are also key primary symptoms to identify if you fear that you may have contracted HIV.
Musculoskeletal disorders (those affecting the muscles and bones) are often the initial symptoms of HIV, according to a 2002 study published in The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
The muscle and joint pain may manifest itself in the form of moderate to severe pain in two or more joints that lasts between 2 and 24 hours.
In a 2013 study published in the Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, the musculoskeletal symptoms of 300 patients of primary HIV were evaluated for a year.
It found that 63.3 percent of patients reported musculoskeletal disorders. Out of these, 46.7 percent reported body aches, 26.7 percent reported joint pain, 8.3 percent reported lower back pain and 6.7 percent reported osteoporosis.
These symptoms intensify as the disease progresses.
Fatigue from HIV can be described as a lack of energy and feeling of exhaustion that is not cured with a good night’s sleep. It may be constant and occur without any physical exertion.
In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, 15 patients recently diagnosed with HIV identified fatigue as a perpetual hindrance in their daily lives.
The study further notes that fatigue was a widely ignored symptom of HIV, and both the patients’ family/friends and concerned health professionals failed to acknowledge this symptom.
Fatigue significantly affected the patients’ ability to perform chores, walk, exercise, work and engage in other activities.
It also affected mental clarity, patience and concentration, according to a 2008 study published in The Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care.
Fatigue may also induce depression and anxiety.
Headaches are the most common and persistent form of pain experienced by HIV patients. They severely deteriorate the patient’s quality of life and hinder his or her day-to-day activities.
Primary headaches (migraines, tension-type headaches and headaches occurring on one side and persisting for weeks) are recurrent headaches not associated with any underlying illness. They may signify that HIV is in its initial stage.
Secondary headaches (sinus headaches or headaches from meningitis) are associated with other illnesses that develop in the later stages of HIV when the immune system further weakens, allowing for opportunistic infections to thrive.
Often, the tension-type headaches exacerbate and combine with secondary headaches due to these secondary illnesses.
Out of 131 patients withprimary HIV, 45.8 percent reported tension-associated headaches, 16 percent reported migraines and 6.1 percent reported other types of headaches, according to a 2000 study published in Pain.
9. Nausea & Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are two of the most common symptoms of HIV, according to a 2008 study published in the International Journal of STD & AIDS.
Since the HIV infection compromises the immune system, the body may contract bacterial, fungal and viral infections even in the initial stages.
Nausea is your body’s way of letting you know your system is under attack by these infections.
Furthermore, if you have recently engaged in any of the high-risk behaviors mentioned earlier and have been feeling nauseated regularly, it might be indicative of HIV.
Like nausea and vomiting, diarrhea is a disorder of the gastrointestinal tract caused by bacterial, fungal and viral infections attacking when the immune system is weak and reeling under an HIV infection.
A common symptom of early HIV, diarrhea severely damages the quality of life of the patient and interferes with his or her routine activities.