Alternative Name: Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection
HIV infection is a viral infection caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that gradually destroys the immune system, resulting in infections that are hard for the body to fight.
Asymptomatic HIV infection is a variable phase during chronic viral infection with HIV characterized by the absence of clinical symptoms of HIV infection.
Early symptomatic HIV infection is the stage of viral infection caused by HIV where symptoms have begun to manifest, but before the development of AIDS (which involves life-threatening infections).
Acute HIV infection may be associated with symptoms resembling mononucleosis or the flu within 2 to 4 weeks of exposure. HIV seroconversion (converting from HIV negative to HIV positive) usually occurs within 3 months of exposure.
People who become infected with HIV may have no symptoms for up to 10 years, but they can still transmit the infection to others.
Meanwhile, their immune system gradually weakens until they are diagnosed with AIDS.
Acute HIV infection progresses over time to asymptomatic HIV infection and then to early symptomatic HIV infection and later, to AIDS (advanced HIV infection):
HIV Infection (acute HIV infection) » early asymptomatic HIV infection »
early symptomatic HIV infection » AIDS
Most individuals infected with HIV will progress to AIDS if not treated. However, there is a tiny subset of patients who develop AIDS very slowly, or never at all. These patients are called non-progressors.
HIV has spread throughout the United States. Higher concentrations of the disease are found in inner city areas.
Any symptoms of illness may occur, since infections can occur throughout the body.
Special symptoms relating to HIV infection include:
Note: At the time of diagnosis with HIV infection, many people have not experienced any symptoms.
Drug therapy is often recommended for patients who are committed to taking all their medications and have a CD4 count less than 500 (indicating immune system suppression) or a high viral load (amount of HIV virus in the bloodstream).
It is extremely important that patients take all doses of their medications, otherwise the virus will rapidly become resistant to the medications. Therapy is always given with a combination of antiviral drugs.
People with HIV infection need to receive education about the disease and treatment so that they can be active partners in decision making with their health care provider
The stress of illness can often be helped by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems.
HIV is a chronic medical condition that can be treated, but not yet cured. There are effective means of preventing complications and delaying, but not preventing, progression to AIDS. At the present time, not all persons infected with HIV have progressed to AIDS, but time has shown that the vast majority do.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have had a possible or actual exposure to AIDS or HIV infection.