HIV Symptoms -- Questions & Answers

When do symptoms of HIV infection appear?
Most people will experience some sort of symptoms within two weeks to one month after initial exposure. These symptoms resemble that of a flu or bad cold. Not all people get them, and a lot of people throw it off as a bad cold, if they are not looking for HIV.

I have HIV, when will my symptoms start to appear?
There is no one guide but usually the opportunistic illnesses do not start to appear until your T-helper cell count falls below 500.

Usually the first illnesses do not lead to AIDS and your count rebounds and shoots back up. A cycle like this can continue for up to 15 years, if you are not taking the HIV meds. The swelling of lymph glands is most likely to be what occurs before your count falls below 500.

How common are lymph gland issues?
They are commonly called glands though more correctly they are the lymph nodes. Glands secrete substances and lymph glands don't. But we will use the common terminology and call them glands. The lymph glands most likely to be effected by HIV are located on the neck, the underarms and the groin areas. About 67% of all HIV infected people experience swollen glands before their counts fall below 500. This is not too troubling in of itself, as many healthy people have swollen glands; in fact it's normal when the immune system fights off illness.

What are the symptoms of HIV infection?
The most common are chronic low-grade fever, persistent fatigue, diarrhea, rashes, other skin issues, weight loss, night sweats, and thrush (an infection of the throat or mouth).

I have those do I have HIV?
Those symptoms are so common to so many other illness, to diagnose you as having HIV, on the basis of those symptoms alone, would be malpractice and ludicrous. The flu, mononucleosis, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia all have the same symptoms. The only way to know for sure is to take the HIV antibody test.

So what good does it do to know the symptoms?
It would help you to know if, for example, you have unprotected sex and those symptoms show up, you would know to make an appointment to get checked for HIV.

Are HIV symptoms the same as other STDs?
Each Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) has a unique set of symptoms and treatments. The key difference is HIV can be spread thru any contact with blood and doesn't cause an infection of the genital area itself. HIV does not cause burning, itching, open sores or discharges.
However HIV is often transmitted ALONG WITH other STDs so when you get checked for other STDs it's important to be tested for HIV. It is thought having an STD makes you more susceptible to contracting the HIV virus.

Why would another STD make you more vulnerable?
Because it taxes the immune system trying to fight off more illness at once and also other STDs provide open sores and discharges which give the HIV virus an additional entry route to your body.

What are other symptoms with HIV infection?
Serious bouts of diarrhea can be common. This is not an ordinary case of diarrhea but one so severe the patient may require hospitalization to replace lost fluids. This is the body despertely trying to flush the virus out of your system. Also skin rashes are common. Although most of the skin rashes are actually from opportunistic infections and not HIV itself, HIV can cause a rash of raised red blotches on the face and upper body, sometimes on the legs.

Are vision problems common with AIDS?
A majority of those diagnosed with AIDS suffer vision issues. The most common problem is caused by CMV (cytomegalovirus) retinitis. CMV infects the retina this usually results when T-helper cell count falls to 50 or below. The symptoms of CMV retinitis include loss of visual acuity, seeing floaters or images float past the eye and a loss of peripheral vision. This can be controlled by medications but any damage done is usually not reversible.

Are memory issues common with AIDS?
Cells that support, protect and nurture the brain have CD4 receptor cells; therefore like T-helper HIV can affect brain cells. HIV enters the brain and produces various chemicals that can interfere with proper brain function. People with advanced HIV or AIDS will often experience lapses in memory and thought sluggishness. Opportunistic illnesses like toxoplasmosis produce memory problems as well. Studies however, have indicated the difficulty with concentration or attention is usually due to an underlying depression and not HIV or an opportunistic illnesses

I keep hearing TB mentioned with AIDS what's that about?
TB (tuberculosis) was once very well controlled but while still controlled isn't nearly as well controlled as it should be. TB is a bacterial infection of the lungs, but can spread to other areas of the body. At one time TB victims were sent away to sanitariums for the rest of their lives but with the advent of antibiotics, this disease became highly curable.

While all forms of TB are contagious most are hard to contract, but one kind of mycobaterial TB is highly contagious, and spread by sneezing and coughing.

TB can live in the body for a long time and be inactive, in fact there is a thing called latent TB that you can have until the day you die and not know it. What that means is you have TB but your immune system has it so well controlled that it can't affect you and can't be spread to others.

As your immune system wears down cases of latent TB become active, that normally would remain inactive, till the person dies. In addition by not finishing the full course of antibiotics for TB, which can take months, new drug resistant strains of TB are becoming more commonplace.

Can you have AIDS and not be sick?
Yes, once your T-helper cell count falls below 200 you can be diagnosed with AIDS regardless of having any illnesses. This was done mainly for political reasons to allow HIV people access to claim disability and other forms of lower cost medical help.

How long will you live if you've been diagnosed with AIDS, not just HIV?
People have lived as long as 15 years or more. People have died within a year of being diagnosed, it is all different. Researches have found what illness you first contract when you are diagnosed with AIDS, can be a marker for how long you'll live.

For instance if your first opportunistic illness is KS you are more likely to live longer than someone who's first opportunistic illness was PCP. Also important is how damaged the immune system is once your recover from PCP or KS or other illnesses.

What does "final stages" of AIDS mean?
The term refers to when death is near, usually under a year of life expectancy. With respect to AIDS it is when the immune system is so damaged and cannot respond to illnesses or has become non responsive to medical treatment.

Are there difference between HIV in children and adults?
Yes because the immune system is not fully developed the opportunistic illness are often more severe. They are much more likely to have neurological illness and PCP or other lung diseases. They also succumb to the diseases quicker. It is thought these differences are due to their immature immune systems.

How do children get HIV?
Most children get HIV through the delivery process, while in the womb or rarely from breast feeding.

Are all babies born to HIV infected women HIV positive?
No, although almost all babies born to HIV positive mothers will test positive for HIV on the first or second HIV antibody tests. This is because the mother's antibodies cross over to the baby via the placenta.

Within 6 months to a year the antibodies from the mother disappear. Babies that are actually infected with HIV will then produce their own antibodies. A baby can be tested with PCR which directly tests for RNA from the HIV virus that can provide direct information if the baby has been infected.

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