PCP HIV AIDS Toolkit/Biology of HIV AIDS/Handout B: Stages Of Infection

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PCP HIV AIDS Toolkit Handout B: Stages Of Infection
This page is part of the PCP HIV AIDS Toolkit.

Handout B: The Stages of HIV/AIDS Infection for Adults[edit]

  1. Acute infection (the first 2-8 weeks after exposure):
    • After initial infection, the body's T4 cells rush in to fight the HIV, initiating the body's immune response.
    • Until the immune system has generated sufficient levels of antibodies for detection in the blood by available tests, HIV tests will be negative. This is the "window period," the time that a person can be infected but test negative. Typically it lasts one to three months, but can be longer.
    • Most people have mild flu-like symptoms for one to four weeks (sore throat, headache, fever), a skin rash, and tender lymph nodes; however there are insufficient antibodies in the blood to be detected. Symptoms go away on their own.
    • HIV replicates rapidly during this stage, spreading to many organs, particularly the lymphoid tissues, where the virus can be stored.
    • As T4 cells become infected and begin to replicate, the viral load in the blood is high.
    • During this period, patients may be highly infectious, about 10 times more infectious than in the asymptomatic stage.[1]
  2. Asymptomatic HIV stage (6 months to 11 years or more):
    • Following acute infection, an untreated adult can remain symptom free from 6 months to a median time of about 11 years.[2]
    • During this time HIV continues to replicate and destroy T4 cells.
    • The body continues to produce new T4 cells and antibodies to the virus, indicating that the immune system is fighting the virus.
    • A person with HIV in this stage, like all other stages, can infect others through contact with body fluids, although she or he is less infectious.
    • Good nutrition, clean water, exercise, stress reduction, and avoiding people with obvious contagious diseases are all important.
  3. Symptomatic HIV stage (this stage may last for months or years):
    • The symptomatic phase can last for months or years before a diagnosis of AIDS occurs.
    • HIV continues to replicate and the number of T4 cells in the body drops significantly.
    • The immune system is weakened, and is less likely to fight off some infections that a healthy immune system can combat.
    • As the number of T4 cells decline, symptoms develop such as fever, weight loss, malaise, pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhea, night sweats or swollen lymph glands.
    • Without drug therapy, about 30 percent of people in the symptomatic stage will develop AIDS-associated infections within five years.[3]
    • As in all stages, a person can infect others.
    • As in the asymptomatic stage, good nutrition, clean water, exercise, stress reduction, and avoiding people with obvious contagious diseases are all important.
  4. AIDS: Advanced HIV disease stage:
    • The final stage of HIV infection.
    • The diagnosis of AIDS is a marker, not an end in itself.
    • AIDS does not mean immediate death. People with AIDS can have varying states of health‚Äîsome feel well, others suffer from chronic illness, and some die fairly quickly.[4]
    • HIV has progressed to AIDS when the T4 cell count is below 200/microlitre of blood (a healthy, non-infected person has a T4 cell count of around 1000/microlitre of blood).
    • There is continued rapid replication of the HIV virus that can overwhelm the immune system, which is weakened to the point that it cannot fight off diseases that a healthy person can resist. The person begins to develop opportunistic diseases that vary by geographic region. These include a large range of diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, bowel infection, meningitis, and cancers such as non-Hodgkin‚Äôs lymphoma and Kaposi‚Äôs sarcoma.
    • Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death in people infected with HIV worldwide.
    • As in all stages, a person can infect others.

  1. Stine, Gerald J, Ph.D., AIDS Update 2007: An Annual Overview of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, pg. 142.
  2. Stine, Gerald J, Ph.D., AIDS Update 2007: An Annual Overview of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, pg. 144.
  3. Stine, Gerald J, Ph.D., AIDS Update 2007: An Annual Overview of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, pg. 145.
  4. Stine, Gerald J, Ph.D., AIDS Update 2007: An Annual Overview of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, pg. 145.