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How Long Does It Take to Show Symptoms of HIV?

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Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks your body’s immune system. If left untreated, it can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Early diagnosis is key to slowing the progression of the disease.

Symptoms can vary from person to person, but knowing the initial symptoms that may appear can help you get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

This article will discuss the different stages of HIV, how symptoms can appear, how the test works, and what happens if you test positive for the virus.

Verywell / Daniel Drankwalter


What is acute HIV infection?

There are three stages of HIV infection:

  • State 1: Acute HIV infection
  • Phase 2: Chronic HIV infection
  • Stage 3: AIDS

Acute HIV infection is the early stage of the infection process. Usually within 2-4 weeks of being infected, two-thirds of people with HIV will have flu-like symptoms. These symptoms can last for days or even weeks. However, some people may experience no symptoms at all.

During this stage, there is a large amount of HIV in your blood, called the viral load. Studies have documented extremely high viral loads during the acute phase, meaning you’re more contagious at this point.

When do symptoms appear?

Some people have flu-like symptoms within two to four weeks of infection, but others may not feel sick or develop symptoms until later.

See a health care provider if you have symptoms of HIV and think you may have been exposed to HIV. An HIV test is the only way to know for sure.

In the United States, HIV is transmitted primarily through anal or vaginal sex or sharing needles with an HIV-infected partner. Anal sex is the highest-risk behavior.

You can prevent HIV by using condoms correctly every time you have sex; pre-exposure prophylaxis, a method of prevention in which an HIV-negative partner takes HIV medication daily to prevent HIV infection; and treatment as prophylaxis, a method in which an HIV-infected partner takes daily HIV medication to achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load.

Only antigen/antibody tests or nucleic acid tests (NAT) can diagnose acute HIV infection. The NAT looks for the actual virus in the blood, and the antigen/antibody test looks for HIV antibodies and antigens. Antibodies are made by your immune system when you are exposed to viruses like HIV, and antigens are foreign substances that cause your immune system to activate.

However, there is no test that can detect HIV immediately after infection. NAT can usually tell if you have HIV 10 to 33 days after exposure, while antigen/antibody tests can tell 18 to 45 days after exposure.

Early symptoms of HIV

Early symptoms of HIV may include:

About 13% of people with HIV in the United States are unaware of their diagnosis. Many of these people do not have any symptoms. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone in the United States ages 13 to 64, regardless of whether they have symptoms, get tested for HIV at least once a year. life.

How to know the symptoms are HIV

There are three types of HIV tests:

  • NAT involves drawing blood from a vein. It can tell if you have HIV or how much virus is in your blood. Although NAT can detect HIV earlier than other types of testing, it is expensive and is not routinely used to screen individuals unless they have recently been exposed to high risk or exposure and early symptoms of HIV infection. This test takes a few days to get results.
  • Antigen/antibody test is recommended for testing to be done in a laboratory and is now common in the United States. It involves drawing blood from a vein and takes a few days to get the results. There is also a rapid antigen/antibody test that is done with a finger prick and takes 30 minutes or less to get results.
  • HIV antibody test only looks for antibodies against HIV in your blood or oral fluids. In general, antibody tests using blood from a vein can detect HIV after infection earlier than tests done with blood from a finger prick or with oral fluids. Antibody tests can detect HIV infection 23 to 90 days after exposure. Most rapid tests and the only approved HIV self-test today are antibody tests. They take 20 minutes or less to deliver results.

Remember, any positive results (called a preliminary positive) will require a second test to confirm. The only test that doesn’t require a second validation test is NAT.

The time period from when a person may have been exposed to HIV until a test can tell for sure if they have the virus is called the window period. The window period varies from person to person and depends on the type of test used to detect HIV. If you get tested for HIV after potentially being exposed to HIV and the results are negative, you need to get tested again after the window period.

What will happen next

If you find out you’re HIV-positive, it’s important to note that the condition is treatable. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they have had the virus or how healthy they are. It works by reducing the amount of virus in the body to very low levels. This treatment can also slow the progression of the infection and protect the immune system.

Taking antiretroviral drugs is important to slow the progression of HIV. If left untreated, HIV will progress to the second stage. During this stage, people may not experience any symptoms. Without treatment, an individual can stay in this stage for 10 to 15 years.

For asymptomatic people with acute HIV infection, it takes an average of seven years to progress to AIDS.

A very good word

Early diagnosis is important to slow the progression of HIV. If you’re in a high-risk group, you should get tested every three to six months. Several tests are available, including at-home options, for you to get your results in.

Most people with HIV in the United States will not progress to AIDS, given the advancement in treatment options. However, compliance is everything. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have and get tested if you’re concerned you’ve been exposed.

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