Dr Zuze Matters of Health
KNOWING your HIV status is an important component of the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Getting an HIV test, while scary, is the ideal way to tell if you are infected or not. Below, however, are some of the softer early signs and symptoms of HIV infection.
The fever, if it occurs at all, is often accompanied by other usually mild symptoms, such as fatigue, swollen lymph glands, and a sore throat a few weeks after infection.
At this point the virus is moving into the blood stream and starting to replicate in large numbers. As that happens, there is an inflammatory reaction by the immune system.
The inflammatory response generated by your besieged immune system also can cause you to feel tired and lethargic. Fatigue can be both an early and later sign of HIV.
Achy muscles, joint pains and swollen lymph nodes: Acute seroconversion syndrome, which occurs a few weeks after HIV infection, is often mistaken for the flu, or another viral illness.
That’s not surprising: Many of the symptoms are the same, including pain in the joints and muscles and swollen lymph glands. Lymph nodes are part of your body’s immune system and tend to get inflamed when there’s an infection. Many of them are located in your armpit, groin, and neck.
Skin rashes can occur early or late in the course of HIV and AIDS. If you get rashes that are not easily explained or treated, you should think about an HIV test.
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea:
Anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of people have short-term nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea in the early stages of infection. These symptoms can also appear as a result of anti-retroviral therapy and later in the infection, usually as the result of an opportunistic infection.
Weight loss is a sign of more advanced illness and could be due in part to severe diarrhoea. The weight loss needs to be unintentional and more that 10 percent of body weight lost for it to be significant. Less of this is being seen now due to anti-retroviral therapy.
This can go on for months and might keep getting worse. Inhalers, antibiotics and allergy medications may be used without improvement. This sort of cough is typical in very ill HIV patients. Sometimes a chronic cough might be from an opportunistic infection like Tuberculosis (TB) or pneumonia.
About half of people get night sweats during the early stages of HIV infection.
These can be even more common later in infection and aren’t related to exercise or the temperature of the room. These are usually serious sweats that soak your nightclothes and sheets. Sweating can also be a sign of infections like TB and some cancers.
Another sign of late HIV infection are nail changes, such as thickening and curving of the nails, splitting of the nails, or discolouration to a greyish colour. Nail changes may also be due to fungal nail infections which are more common in advanced infection.
Another fungal infection that’s common in later stages is thrush, a mouth infection caused by Candida, a type of yeast.
It appears in the mouth or oesophagus making it hard to swallow. When you have thrush, you will find white patches on the tongue or walls of the mouth that can be difficult to get rid of.
Confusion or difficulty concentrating:
Cognitive problems could be a sign of HIV-related dementia, which usually occurs late in the course of the disease.
In addition to confusion and difficulty concentrating, AIDS-related dementia might also involve memory problems and behavioural issues such as anger or irritability.
It may even include motor changes:
Becoming clumsy, lack of coordination, and problems with tasks requiring fine motor skills such as writing by hand.
Cold sores or genital herpes: Cold sores (oral herpes) and genital herpes can be a sign of both early and late-stage HIV infection. And having herpes can also be a risk factor for contracting HIV. This is because genital herpes can cause ulcers that make it easier for HIV to enter the body during sex. And people who have HIV tend to have more severe herpes outbreaks more often because HIV weakens the immune system.
Numbness and weakness:
Late HIV can also cause numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.
This is called peripheral neuropathy, which also occurs in people with uncontrolled diabetes. Nerve damage from HIV can also cause burning feet at night.
HIV disease appears to increase the risk of having menstrual irregularities, such as fewer and lighter periods.
HIV infection has also been associated with earlier onset of menopause.
Many of the problems above are nonspecific and can be from a lot of other things. If you are worried about HIV infection please visit your doctor.