HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system. This means the body is more susceptible to infections and diseases, and if the virus progresses, it can lead to a diagnosis of AIDS. (Here’s more information about HIV and AIDS.)
HIV has three stages:
The first stage is acute HIV infection. Symptoms during this stage resemble influenza: fever, sore throat, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes. Other HIV symptoms include sores or ulcers on the skin, mouth, esophagus, genitals, or anus. An infected patient in this stage may also experience rashes on the face or chest, or they may have digestive problems like nausea, diarrhea, or lack of appetite.
The second stage of HIV is clinical latency. The reproduction of the virus slows down but is still active. This can last for as many as eight years, and the patient may not experience any symptoms—but they are still able to transmit the virus to others. During this time, a patient with HIV is susceptible to cancers, infections, pneumonia, yeast infections, and more.
The third stage of HIV is AIDS. This diagnosis is made when the patient’s T-cell count drops below 200.
A small number of people with HIV never actually develop AIDS. These patients are called “long-term non-progressors.” It is believed that their genetic makeup slows down the destruction of the immune system.