Understanding HIV Symptoms and Treatments

Understanding HIV Symptoms and Treatments

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus and is spread throughout the body. It is transmitted by blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, or breast milk of a person with HIV. AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is an advanced stage of HIV infection.


HIV is a virus that attacks and destroys CD4 cells, these cells are critical in fighting infections of the immune system, therefore, the loss of these cells makes people much more susceptible for developing infections and diseases. Without the right treatment, HIV can progress significantly and in the vast majority of cases, it can advance to AIDS. [1]

How Does HIV Spread

When HIV is spread from person to person it is called HIV transmission. [2]

Therefore, a mother who is HIV positive has the potential of transmitting HIV to her child during childbirth, pregnancy, and through breastfeeding. So, it’s important to note that there are a number of ways to plan a healthy pregnancy to reduce your risk of transmitting the virus to your child. [3] HIV medicine given to pregnant women throughout childbirth and to their babies after birth, greatly reduces the risk of perinatal and postnatal transmission.

HIV can also be spread through contact with infected sexual fluids. In the United States, the main way HIV spreads is by having sex with someone who is HIV positive. To reduce the risk, it’s important to always use condoms correctly when engaging in sexual activities (vaginal, oral, and anal sex) and limit the number of sexual partners. [4]

In addition, HIV can be spread through blood transfusions, although the risk is very low in developed countries, thanks to medical advancement and screening. Although it’s still possible especially for people who share drug injection equipment that are contaminated with HIV-infected blood.

We’ve come a long way in our knowledge of HIV and how it spreads, HIV cannot be transmitted through air, people can’t get HIV from contact with objects (using the same toilet, sharing towels, sharing cutlery, etc.), and mosquitos, ticks, and insects are not infected with the virus.

Early Stage Symptoms

Some people infected with the HIV virus experience no symptoms until several months after contracting the virus. However, some people experience some or all the following symptoms within weeks of coming in contact with the virus:

  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Sore throat
  • Night sweats
  • Red rash
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Thrush

Many of these symptoms can appear in other types of viruses, however, if you suspect that you could be at risk of HIV, you should contact your doctor immediately.

After the early warning of HIV infection, the virus will continue to multiply the body but at very low levels. Without the right treatment, over a course of 10 years, an infected person will start to become more susceptible to serious illnesses, this stage is also known as AIDS or stage 3 HIV.  During this stage, the risk of dying is greater.

Late Stage Symptoms

  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Blurred vision
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Dry cough
  • Fever
  • Permanent tiredness
  • White spots on mouth


The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that more than 1.1 million people in the U.S are living with HIV, and of those affected, one in seven are unware of how advance their HIV status is. [5]

Blood test are the most common way an HIV diagnosis is made; the test looks for antibodies that the body creates to fight the virus. If you believe that the virus has been transmitted to you, you should get tested immediately and conduct follow-up tests as needed. The earlier the virus is detected, the sooner your doctor will be able to develop a treatment plan that is more likely to be successful.

There are four types of tests for diagnosing HIV: Elisa (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) Test, Saliva Test, Viral Load test (test the amount of HIV in your blood), and there’s also home testing kits available as well. [6]


There’s currently no cure or vaccine for HIV or AIDS that exist yet. However, there are treatment options available that can help stop the progression of the virus and can help people living with HIV live a full and healthy life:

  • Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP): If someone suspects they’ve been exposed to the virus within 72 hours, they can take PEP, an anti-HIV medicine that may stop the infection. The treatment last about four weeks but will be monitored for many months after. [7]
  • Antiretroviral therapy (ART): For those who are already diagnosed with the virus, they’ll be treated with a combination of HIV medicines, called antiretrovirals (ARVs). These medicines are taken every day and are used to help slow down the spread of the virus. [8]

HIV can be a very distressing diagnosis to receive and can often lead to anxiety or depression. If you’re feeling uneasy, please make sure to reach out to your doctor or a family member for help.


  1. Nordqvist, Christian. “Explaining HIV and AIDS.” Edited by Daniel Murrell, Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 20 Feb. 2018, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/17131.php.
  2. “HIV/AIDS: The Basics.” AIDSinfo, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 22 Aug. 2017, aidsinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv-aids/fact-sheets/19/45/hiv-aids–the-basics.
  3. “HIV and Family Planning.” POZ, Smart + Strong, www.poz.com/basics/hiv-basics/hiv-family-planning.
  4. “How Is HIV Transmitted?” HIV.gov, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 3 Feb. 2018, www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/how-is-hiv-transmitted.
  5. “U.S. Statistics.” HIV.gov, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 11 July 2018, www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/data-and-trends/statistics.
  6. “HIV Diagnosis.” UCSF Medical Center, University of California San Francisco, www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/hiv/diagnosis.html.
  7. “HIV/AIDS.” PEP, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 May 2018, www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/pep.html.
  8. “HIV Treatment Overview.” HIV.gov, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 15 May 2017, www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/staying-in-hiv-care/hiv-treatment/hiv-treatment-overview.