21 Early Signs and Stages of HIV

What is human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)?

Picture of a man holding a red ribbon in his hands.
HIV early signs and symptoms may appear after about 2-6 weeks after exposure to the virus.

HIV is a blood-borne virus, a member of the Retroviridae family that can be transmitted by sexual intercourse, intravenous drug materials contaminated by the virus, mother-to-child during birth or breastfeeding and cause immunodeficiency in the person infected. Diagnosis is done by having a positive lab test for HIV. There is no cure for HIV; but antiretroviral treatment can control the virus so patients can live long and healthy lives.

What are the early signs and symptoms of HIV infection?

The early signs and symptoms of stage 1 HIV infection resemble those that occur with the flu and may include:

What Causes HIV?

HIV is an STD (sexually transmitted disease), and sexual transmission of HIV has been described from men to men, men to women, women to men, and women to women through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. The spread of HIV can occur when these secretions come in contact with tissues such as;

  • those lining the vagina, anal area, mouth, eyes (the mucus membranes), and
  • with a break in the skin, such as from a cut or puncture by a needle.

The most common ways in which HIV is spreading throughout the world include;

  • sexual contact,
  • sharing needles, and
  • by mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy, labor (the delivery process), or breastfeeding.

The best way to avoid sexual transmission is abstinence from sex until it is certain that both partners in a monogamous relationship are not HIV infected through simple, easy, and readily available privately in clinics around the U.S.

When do the early signs and symptoms of HIV appear?

HIV early signs and symptoms may appear after about 2-6 weeks after exposure to the virus. In most patients, the symptoms gradually resolve over a few weeks; some patients have mild or no symptoms. Later in the disease process (progressive immunologic impairment), stages 2 and 3. The early symptoms reoccur and become more severe.

Some HIV-related infections are more severe in women (for example, fungal disease especially vaginal yeast infections, and cervical dysplasia). These later Stage 3 or AIDS symptoms may also begin, and include:

Are the early signs and symptoms of HIV different in men and women?

Most of the opportunistic infections that arise when an HIV patient progresses to AIDS are the same in men and women. Severe weight loss, pain with eating, skin rashes and cancers, and recurrent pneumonias are some of the more common problems that occur with AIDS patients.

Some HIV-related infections are more severe in women, for example, cervical dysplasia (precancer of the cervix), and fungal infections like vaginal yeast infections.


A Timeline of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic See Slideshow

What are the 3 stages of HIV? When does HIV infection transition to AIDs?

There are 3 stages of HIV infection:

  • Stage 1: Flu-like symptoms after initial HIV infection (some patients have few or no symptoms)
  • Stage 2: Clinically latency (HIV inactivity and/or slow progression of immunologic impairment) may last for 10 or more years in some individuals;
  • Stage 3: After HIV reactivation and/or HIV’s progressive attack on the immune system, the damaged immune system has a reduced or an inability to protect the individual from serious infections and other illnesses. This stage is termed AIDS. In this stage, lab testing reveals high viral loads and CD4 counts <200 cells/mm3.

What are the signs and symptoms of AIDS?

Having an infection with the HIV virus does not automatically mean that the patient has AIDS. As the HIV virus infects more and more CD4 (immune) cells and makes more copies of itself, the patient’s immune system gets overwhelmed and begins to falter. When the immune system breaks down due to HIV infection, opportunistic infections like fungal infections, pneumonias, and cancers can occur. When this level of HIV infection occurs, it is called AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

Some of the signs and symptoms of progression of HIV to AIDS are:

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 3/18/2022
Bennet, N, HIV infection and AIDS. Medscape. Update: Nov 08, 2019.

Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in Adults and Adolescents with HIV.

Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in Adults and Adolescents with HIV. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Updated: May 01, 2014.

Symptoms of HIV. Updated: Jun 21, 2019. <https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/symptoms-of-hiv