Answer: In the early stages of infection, many people will, in fact, develop no signs or symptoms at all. This is perhaps one of the reasons why one out of five of the 1.1 million Americans infected with HIV go undiagnosed.
However, in 40% or more of cases, flu-like symptoms will develop within 7-14 days of an exposure. This condition is commonly referred to as acute retroviral syndrome, or ARS(alternately known as acute seroconversion syndrome, acute HIV syndrome, or seroconversion illness).
ARS can present with a number of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, including:
- Pharyngitis (sore throat)
- Myalgia (muscular aches and pain)
- Arthralgia (joint pain)
- Lymphadenopathy (swollen lymph glands)
Occasionally, these symptoms are accompanied by a morbilliform rash (i.e., a rash characterized by a flat, red area of the skin covered with small, confluent bumps). Additionally, 30% of people with ARS are likely to experience short-term nausea, diarrhea or vomiting.
Most of these symptoms are a result of the body’s natural immune response as HIV rapidly disseminates (or spreads) from the site of infection to the lymphoid tissues of the body.
ARS can persist for up to four months in some individuals until such time as the immune system begins to take control of viral replication. While HIV is still actively replicating during this chronic stage of infection, it generally does so at a lower level until the HIV viral load is stabilized and a so-called “viral set point” is established.