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Stages & Phases of HIV/AIDS

Primary infection

This is the stage when a person first becomes infected with the HIV virus. It includes the window period and the process of seroconversion. The window period is the time between becoming initially infected and the time it takes for the antibodies to show up in an HIV test. This can last up to three months! If you are in the window period you may have a negative test result but still be infectious. It is the stage where we may feel 100% but HIV is replicating in the body and no outward damages to the immune system are apparent.
 

Seroconversion illness

Before the appearance of antibodies to HIV in the blood, some people may develop symptoms following exposure to HIV. Antibodies usually become detectable at the same time as this illness. This is known as seroconversion illness. The symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Prolonged fever (4 - 14 days) and aching limbs
  • Red blotchy rash over the trunk
  • Sore throat (pharyngitis)
  • Ulceration in the mouth or genitals
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe headaches
  • Aversion to the light

Symptoms of seroconversion may occur in up to 80% of people infected, but the severity of the symptoms varies between people. Some people report only a mild flu-like illness 2 to 6 weeks after a risk of HIV exposure, but others experience an illness severe enough to require hospitalization. Remember that these symptoms could be caused by other infections; flu, glandular fever, tonsillitis and a serious herpes attack have similar symptoms to those reported in seroconversion illness.
 

Seroconversion

This is the process of rapid HIV replication and the build-up of HIV-anti-bodies. During seroconversion your body is producing antibodies, and HIV is continually replicating and spreading through bodily fluids. During this time you may not even know you are infected with HIV.
 

Window Period

The "window period" is the time it takes for a person who has been infected with HIV to produce antibodies to the virus. When we become infected with any virus (cold virus, flu virus, HIV etc.), our immune system produces antibodies to destroy that particular virus. However, unlike cold and flu viruses, the antibodies produced to fight HIV are not capable of destroying it.

The window period is the time between initial infection and the time that your body produces anti-bodies to the virus. The HIV test doesn't actually test for HIV, but these anti-bodies. Antibodies to the HIV virus will appear within 3 months of infection. During the window period and process of seroconversion someone can be unaware that they have HIV in their system.  The bottom line is that we need to get
tested and we need to use condoms.
 

Asymptomatic Infection

Asymptomatic infection is the period after testing positive for HIV, when you remain healthy without any symptoms of HIV disease. This may last for many years. Although you remain well, the HIV virus continues to spread.

The length of this phase is highly variable among individuals and it correlates with the speed of replication of HIV in each individual, as well as genetic differences in the way your immune system
handles the virus. Asymptomatic infection can last 10 years or more in some people. It is characterized by the lack of symptoms associated with HIV.
 

Symptomatic Infection

Symptomatic infection occurs as your immune system is becoming weakened by HIV. You may experience symptoms such as fatigue, night sweats, diarrhea, weight loss, or a range of
other symptoms; when someone gets ill due to infections or tumors he or she is said to have symptomatic HIV infection. There are a wide range of illnesses associated with symptomatic infection, to learn more please contact the AIDS Committee, or listen to someone who is HIV positive.
 

Advanced HIV disease or AIDS

Advanced HIV disease or AIDS is a technical classification for a person who has a low CD4 count, and/or, an opportunistic infection. An opportunistic infection is an infection or a cancer that would normally be eradicated by a healthy immune system.

AIDS is characterized by a compromised immune system and involves severe symptoms such as wasting, pneumonia, and other life threatening conditions. Sometimes people say that someone "died of AIDS"; this is not entirely accurate, since it is the opportunistic infections that cause death. AIDS is the condition that lets the opportunistic infection take hold.


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