The only way to know for sure whether you are infected is to be tested. This involves a blood test described later in this section.
You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether you are infected with HIV. About half the people who are infected have flu-like symptoms within two to four weeks of having been exposed to HIV. However, just as many people infected by HIV do not have any symptoms at all for many years.
Over time, as the immune system weakens, maybe over months or years, symptoms begin to develop. The following may be warning signs of HIV infection:
- rapid weight loss
- dry cough
- fevers or night sweats
- extreme tiredness
- swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
- diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
- frequent yeast infections (oral or vaginal)
- pelvic inflammatory disease in women that does not respond to treatment
- persistent skin rashes or flaky skin
- short-term memory loss
Do not assume you are infected if you have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. The only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection.
HIV tests do not actually test for the virus, but test for antibodies to the virus. Antibodies are made by the body’s white blood cells to fight infection. If these antibodies are present in your blood, you are HIV-positive and need treatment.
If you think you have been exposed to HIV, it is important to be tested as soon as possible, whether you have symptoms or not. The sooner you can get treatment, the less your immune system will be damaged. Unfortunately, the antibodies to the virus don’t appear right away. It can take eight to twelve weeks for the antibodies to show up in a test.