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Symptoms of HIV

HIV is a virus and like most viruses it makes itself felt by various symptoms. The symptoms of HIV depend on the level of infection which is roughly approximated to be the length of time that a person has been infected.

The first symptoms of HIV will be similar to a flu, this is when the immune system is still healthy. Common symptoms at this stage may include:

  • high fever (high temperature)
  • sore throat
  • night sweat
  • weight loss
  • rash

The most common symptoms of HIV are:

  • High fever
  • Rash, mostly on the body, legs and arms. This may be identified by a reddening of the skin.

If you think that you may have been infected or you experience the symptoms above, then rather be safe than sorry- get tested now. HIV can be controlled when it is caught early but there is little that can be done once it reaches the later stages.

This period is known as the primary infection of HIV and usually occurs a few weeks after infection and will not last more than a few weeks. In some people the symptoms may occur as soon as 10 days and as late as 3 months after infection.

Some people do not experience any symptoms, it is estimated that only about 70% of people infected with HIV will experience the symptoms of HIV at all. Different publications offer different percentages as to the number of people whom do not experience symptoms.

Next the body will experience a period with few or no symptoms. This may last many years.

Finally, when the body's immune system has been deteriorated, measured by the CD4 count, then the body may be compromised by various infections and/or cancers and the symptoms of those inflictions will be felt. At this stage the body has AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). The national AIDS helpline is 0800 012 322.

Click here to read about HIV home test kits around the world

Symptoms of HIV in the first few days after infection.

Some people report having symptoms of HIV a few days after being infected but this is highly unlikely. It is more likely that a person experiences symptoms because of anxiety. This is particularly true if the person has sexual intercourse with a sex worker or a person thought to be infected with HIV.

What should you do if you have been exposed to HIV

The symptoms of HIV take a few weeks to appear. If you have been exposed to HIV or you suspect that you have been exposed to HIV then it is best to take immediate action before you experience any symptoms.

Exposure to HIV because you have been raped or your child has been raped.

South Africa has a very high rate of rape of women and children. According to there are 1.9 million rapes in South Africa every year. That translates to a rate of 364 rapes per 100 000 population which is roughly 4 times higher than Botswana (the highest recorded rate of rape in the world) according to the UN rape Statistics. In short, rape is prevalent in South Africa.

If you have been raped, do not get an HIV test kit as it will not be accurate immediately after exposure to HIV, it is only effective a few weeks after exposure. If you have been raped you should go to a doctor immediately to seek advice on Post Exposure Prophylaxis which will prevent the spread of HIV. You can call the 24 hour hotline 0800 212 680 (Right to Care), they will advise you on the best course of action. Remember to also go to the Police Station to report the rape. Post Exposure Prophylaxis must be started as soon as possible, preferably within an hour but may still be taken 24 hours after exposure to HIV.

Exposure to HIV because of an accident or contact with blood or mucous.

HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva or tears. HIV can be transmitted through blood and sexual intercourse. If you have just been exposed, immediately clean the area with soap and water, then seek medical advice from a doctor. An HIV screening test cannot detect HIV infection immediately after exposure and the symptoms of HIV will not be noticeable immediately after infection.

Click here to read more about the risks of HIV infection. Whatever the reason for your exposure to HIV it is best to get tested as soon as possible and to begin with treatment if necessary. Treatment of HIV/Aids has evolved since the initial outbreaks. Read about some landmarks in the race to find a cure.