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Signs & Symptoms

Within 2-4 weeks after exposure to HIV, many, but not all, people who are infected flu-like symptoms, often described as the worst flu ever. Many HIV+ People do not have symptoms. They don't look for feel sick. Often people only begin to feel sick when they progress toward AIDS If you think you may have been exposed to HIV - regardless of whether you have experienced any symptoms - it is important to get tested as soon as possible
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What are the Symptoms of HIV?

The symptoms of HIV vary, depending on the individual and what stage of the disease you are in.

Early Stage of HIV: Symptoms

Within 2-4 weeks after HIV infection, many, but not all, people experience flu-like symptoms, often described as the “worst flu ever.” This is called “acute retroviral syndrome” (ARS) or “primary HIV infection,” and it’s the body’s natural response to the HIV infection.

Symptoms can include:

  • Fever (this is the most common symptom)
  • Swollen glands
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint aches and pains
  • Headache

These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. However, you should not assume you have HIV if you have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses. Conversely, not everyone who is infected with HIV develops ARS. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for 10 years or more. 

You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether you have HIV. The only way to know for sure if you are infected with HIV is to get tested. If you think you have recently been exposed to HIV—if you have had oral, vaginal or anal sex without a condom with a known HIV positive person or a partner whose HIV status you do not know or shared needles to inject drugs—get an HIV test. Traditional HIV tests detect HIV antibodies. But during this early stage your body is not yet producing these antibodies. A new HIV test was approved in 2013 that can detect the presence of HIV in your body during this early stage of infection. So no matter where you get tested, it is very important to let your provider know that you may have been recently infected with HIV and you would like to be tested for acute HIV. Use the HIV/AIDS Testing and Services Locator to find a HIV testing site near you or enter your location here:


It is important to remember that with or without symptoms, you are at particularly high risk of transmitting HIV to your sexual or drug using partners during this time because the levels of HIV in your blood stream are very high. For this reason, it is very important to take steps to reduce your risk of transmission.

The Clinical Latency Stage

After the early stage of HIV infection, the disease moves into a stage called the “clinical latency” stage. “Latency” means a period where a virus is living or developing in a person without producing symptoms. During the clinical latency stage, people who are infected with HIV experience no HIV-related symptoms, or only mild ones. (This stage is sometimes called “asymptomatic HIV infection” or “chronic HIV infection.”)

During the clinical latency stage, the HIV virus reproduces at very low levels, although it is still active. If you take antiretroviral therapy (ART), you may live with clinical latency for several decades because treatment helps keep the virus in check. (Read more about HIV treatment.) For people who are not on ART, this clinical latency stage lasts an average of 10 years, but some people may progress through this phase faster.

It is important to remember that people in this symptom-free period are still able to transmit HIV to others even if they are on ART, although ART greatly reduces the risk of transmission.

Again, the only way to know for sure if you are infected with HIV is to get tested. Tests are available that can detect the virus at this stage. Use the HIV/AIDS Testing and Services Locator to find a HIV testing site near you.

Progression to AIDS: Symptoms

If you have HIV and you are not taking HIV medication (antiretroviral therapy), eventually the HIV virus will weaken your body’s immune system. The onset of symptoms signals the transition from the clinical latency stage to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

During this late stage of HIV infection, people infected with HIV may have the following symptoms:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
  • Extreme and unexplained tiredness
  • Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
  • Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
  • Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
  • Pneumonia
  • Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
  • Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.

Each of these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. So, as noted above, the only way to know for sure if you are infected with HIV is to get tested.

Many of the severe symptoms and illnesses of HIV disease come from the opportunistic infections that occur because your body’s immune system has been damaged. (Read more about opportunistic illnesses.)

For more information, see the National Library of Medicine’s AIDS.

Last revised: 12/19/2013