By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center
A stuffy nose tells you you’ve caught a cold. A skin rash means you’re allergic to something you’ve eaten or touched.
Unfortunately, HIV isn’t that simple.
You can acquire HIV and not notice any symptoms for years. People often don’t feel sick at all until HIV turns into AIDS. On average, that could take 10 years!
So, while there are some common symptoms of acute (or brand new) HIV infection, none of them are a surefire way to tell you have it.
The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. Really, there’s no other way.
To help you understand, let’s talk about what usually happens in the body after HIV gets in the bloodstream. Within a couple weeks of contracting the virus, about half of those infected experience what feels like a really nasty case of the flu, with fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and mouth ulcers.
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But that’s only half…the other half of those infected with HIV have no symptoms at all!
Take another look at that list of symptoms. They are all pretty common and could just mean you caught a bug that’s going around. For example, just because you have a sore throat or swollen lymph nodes doesn’t mean you have HIV.
Symptoms just aren’t a reliable way to know whether you have HIV or not. You want to be certain. To be certain, you have to get tested.
It’s important to get tested for two reasons. First, you’ll be able to stop wondering whether you have it or not. Not knowing is never fun! Second, if you have acquired HIV, you can start treatment right away.
If you don’t know the virus is there, you don’t know to seek treatment. Everyone is different, but if HIV goes untreated it can progress to AIDS in just a few years.
So, why wait? If you think you could have been exposed to HIV through sex (and by sex, we mean oral, anal, and vaginal sex) or needle-sharing, go get tested so you can know your status, and if you have HIV, start treatment.
The test doesn't hurt. It isn't long or complicated. We know you can do it.
Drugs to fight HIV really work. They don’t kill the virus but they can weaken it enough to keep your immune system healthy and help you live a long and fulfilling life!
Positive Peers is made possible through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, HIV/AIDS Bureau Special Projects of National Significance (SPNS) Grant to The MetroHealth System. Click here for more information about the SPNS grant initiative.
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