In general, the symptoms of HIV infection depend on the stage of infection for each person. There are basically 3 stages including acute HIV infection, asymptomatic HIV infection (Asymptomatic HIV Infection) and the stage of immunodeficiency or like to be called AIDS (AIDS or Advanced Immunodeficiency Syndrome), respectively.
Symptoms in acute HIV infection may be seen in minority of patients who have just been infected with the virus for 10-14 days. The patient may have flu-like symptoms, namely high fever, sore throat, body aches. Some may have diarrhea or skin rashes. The physical examination will reveal enlarged lymph nodes. Patients with HIV infection in this stage may be misdiagnosed with influenza or dengue fever. Patients who are at risk of HIV infection should inform their sexual risks to healthcare providers in order to help improve the diagnosis.
Asymptomatic stage, which most people living with HIV are in this stage, is the stage where immune system is relatively intact. Therefore, it is less common for these patients to present with symptoms of opportunistic infection. After being infected with HIV in the early stage, patients will still be able to maintain in this asymptomatic stage for a few years without any signs or symptoms. Most CD4 values are normally more than 300-400 or even higher.
Immunodeficiency stage or AIDS if not diagnosed and not started on antiretroviral treatment (ART), patients infected with HIV will start to develop symptoms of immunodeficiency. Most likely, this will occur within 3-5 years after living with the virus. At the beginning, there could be intermittent diarrhea, chronic cough, and allergic rashes resembling rashes from insect bites. And when the immune deficiency is more profound (CD4 less than 200), patients may be at risk of having opportunistic infections, for example; tuberculosis (chronic cough, intermittent fevers, weight loss), pneumocystis pneumonia (dry cough, difficulty breathing), oral candidiasis (oral thrush). Patients in this stage need to receive antiretroviral and also antibiotic (if needed), to correct their immune system and to treat opportunistic infections. Once treated properly, patients can resume their normal lives and daily activities like before having the illness.
HIV treatment is best if antiretroviral treatment has been started when the patient has no symptoms of complications. Therefore, everyone who is at risk of HIV infection should have an HIV screening test. Early HIV detection can help reduce the chance of immunodeficiency stage in people living with HIV.