By Apollo 24|7, Published on- 28 December 2022 & Updated on - 29 December 2022

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Symptoms: Headache, chills accompanied by fever, muscle ache, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, red blotches and rashes on skin, noticeable swelling in different body parts, night sweats
Causes: Sexual contact, use of drugs, contact with infected blood and needles, from mother to child during pregnancy
Risk Factors: Individuals who inject drugs and share needles, individuals with current or former partners with HIV, individuals who have multiple sexual partners, individuals who have unprotected sex, babies born from parents with HIV
Severity: Mild to severe
Which doctor to consult: General Physician, Infectious Disease Specialist


HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a retrovirus that attacks the cells (particularly the white blood cells) of the human body. The immune system becomes weak and can no longer defend the body from other infections and diseases.
Individuals can contract the virus if they come in contact with somebody who is already infected. It spreads through bodily fluids like blood, semen and vaginal fluids.
However, the virus does not spread through saliva. So, an individual won't get HIV if he/she shares utensils or food with an HIV-positive person. The most common way the infection spreads is through unprotected sex.
If left untreated, HIV can progress into AIDS. The body's immune system becomes weak, and the white blood cells are destroyed and cannot defend the body from further damage.
Many individuals confuse AIDS with HIV. AIDS is the name of the disease that has several symptoms caused by HIV.
There is no cure for HIV but effective treatments can manage the disease's symptoms. Early detection can start early treatment, and individuals can live a healthy and long life.

When to Consult a Doctor?

Some symptoms appear in the first stage of HIV. But the warning signs are often confused with symptoms of the common flu. These symptoms include:
Weight loss
Night sweats
Muscle aches
Sore throat
Oral thrush
Swollen lymph nodes
Mouth ulcers
These symptoms can last anywhere from a week to a few weeks. Sometimes, the flu-like symptoms only appear in the first stage.
Since the disease is often asymptomatic, an individual should consult a doctor if he/she thinks he/she has been exposed to the virus. Visiting a doctor should be considered if:
He/she had unprotected sex with somebody other than their partner in the recent times
He/she has multiple sexual partners
He/she had sex with somebody who has been diagnosed with HIV
He/she lives in an area with high HIV rates
He/she has shared injections in recent times
He/she has a history of sexually transmitted infections


HIV can only be diagnosed after getting a test to confirm the presence of the virus in the body. Symptoms alone are not enough for a diagnosis as they may not always appear, even if an individual carries the virus.

Lab Tests 

Different types of tests can detect HIV. Usually, a blood sample or saliva is tested for an HIV test.
Antigen/Antibody Tests: If an individual has been exposed to the virus, a positive test will reveal the antigens in the blood, confirming the infection.
The antibody test can also help detect HIV, as a person’s immune system produces antibodies weeks after exposure to the virus.
Doctors may prescribe additional tests if the blood test report comes positive. These additional tests help to confirm the HIV stage the individual is at.
CD4 T-Cells Count: HIV usually destroys the white blood cells, which results in weakened immunity. CD4 T-Cells are the white blood cells measured in this test.
Viral Load (HIV RNA): This test measures the amount of virus present in the body.
Drug Resistance Test: Using a blood sample, it is measured if any drug will be effective against the virus strain that affected the body.


HIV has no cure. Once the virus infects the body, one cannot get rid of it. But the treatment plan prescribed by the doctor helps to manage the symptoms and prevent the infection from spreading further. The body reacts best to the treatment if it is started in the acute or first stage, where there are no symptoms.

Home Care

How one take cares of oneself at home goes a long way in how a person reacts to the treatment of HIV. One of the primary needs during the treatment is nutritional fulfilment and fulfilling essential emotional and social support by loved ones.
Here are a few tips for HIV patients to follow at home:
Following the treatment regime without fail, as only a proper treatment plan can help in managing the symptoms of HIV
Going for light exercises that do not strain too much but keep the individual active
Doing activities that one enjoys to find ways of relaxation
Alcohol consumption and smoking can be harmful and interfere with the treatment, so avoiding cigarettes and alcohol at any cost should be necessary.
Getting support from your family and friends whenever required


In HIV, several medications are administered that are popularly called antiretroviral therapy (ART). It is the only known treatment for HIV and should be started as soon as the individual is diagnosed with the infection.
This medication involves a combination of two to three active HIV drugs in one pill. The medicine prevents the virus from multiplying and reduces HIV in the body.
While the pills are the primary course of treatment, individuals with undetectable viral loads may need HIV treatment shots. Their effects are long-lasting, and patients usually need them once a month or every alternate month, depending on the severity of the infection. 

Surgical Treatment 

There are no surgical treatments for patients with HIV. 

Alternative Management

Alternative management practice is followed with primary treatment, and research has proven that it can yield good results. It cannot cure the disease, but it manages the symptoms effectively.
Yoga, meditation and massage therapy can help to cope with the symptoms like body pain, fatigue, and depression. It also helps improve blood circulation and the individual's psychological well-being. These relaxation techniques can certainly help individuals with HIV by improving their immunity.
Acupuncture also helps patients with HIV. It reduces inflammation and improves the quality of life for patients.
Risks & Complications if Left Untreated
If HIV is not treated, it can progress to AIDS. The symptoms of AIDS can be severe, and it is a life-threatening condition. Individuals with AIDS can only live up to three years.
Other than AIDS, the infection can take advantage of the weakened immune system. This leads to cancer, neurological disorders, and other infections. Individuals may experience diarrhea, loss of appetite, pain in the abdomen, weakness and fever.
Neurological problems like confusion, forgetfulness, depression, anxiety and difficulty walking become common.

Additional Information

Stages of HIV
There are four stages of HIV. If left untreated for too long, it can progress to the final stage. The following are the four stages of HIV:
Stage 1: Seroconversion Illness
This is the primary stage of HIV when the disease is an acute infection. It usually begins 2 to 4 weeks after the virus spreads in the body.
Seroconversion is the process by which the immune system of the body reacts by producing antibodies.
Most individuals in this stage show flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, fatigue, and body ache. Because of this, the infection is not diagnosed at this stage. Most individuals ignore it as flu. However, this is the stage when the disease is most infectious.
Stage 2: Asymptomatic Stage
This stage comes as soon as the process of seroconversion is over. As the name suggests, individuals show no symptoms and feel better after the flu-like symptoms.
This stage may last for five to ten years at a stretch without showing any visible symptoms. But the virus continues to infect new cells, spread in the body and make copies of itself. An HIV screening test in this stage can reveal the infection in the body.
Stage 3: Symptomatic HIV
The immune system becomes weakened after fighting the virus for many years. The infection becomes stronger as the tissues and lymph nodes are destroyed completely.
The symptoms at this stage are called opportunistic symptoms because they take advantage of the body's weakened immune system. The most common symptoms include weight loss, fever, night sweats, diarrhoea, and swollen lymph nodes at this stage.
Stage 4: Late-Stage HIV
This is the final and most severe stage. If the infection has damaged the body's immune system and no treatment was followed in the previous stages, the body starts showing the symptoms of AIDS. AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, and without treatment, individuals can survive only up to three to five years.

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Frequently Asked Questions

A primary care provider can screen an individual for HIV if he/she shows any warning signs. If an individual tests positive for HIV, he/she should consider visiting the doctor immediately. The doctor will start antiretroviral therapy or ART immediately. Depending on the severity of the disease, there may be other medications in the treatment regime. If one follows the course of the treatment, it will lower the virus in the blood. Also, if an individual thinks he/she has been exposed to the virus in recent times, visiting a doctor and getting himself/herself screened, is a good decision.  

HIV cannot be cured as there's currently no treatment for the infection. But regular medications (antiretroviral therapy or ART) can lower the virus in the body to a level that it does not appear in the tests. This prevents symptoms and further complications.

HIV causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). It is a life-threatening condition that individuals suffer from when the HIV infection in their body reaches a severe stage. It is a chronic disease that destroys the body's ability to fight infections and diseases.