Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV attacks specific cells (T cells) in the immune system. The weakened immune system is less able to fight off infections and diseases.

There is no cure for HIV or AIDS, but medications can control HIV to slow its progress in destroying T cells. That means that people who have HIV can live longer, healthier lives with treatment. If treatment begins before HIV is advanced, patients may develop AIDS much later or not at all. AIDS is the final and most advanced stage of HIV infection.

Symptoms of HIV/AIDS

Most people have few or no symptoms during the early stages of HIV, even up to 10 years. Within 1 to 2 months after infection, some people have early symptoms that may last a few days to several weeks. During and after this time, you are highly infectious with HIV.

The early symptoms of HIV include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck and groin
  • Sore throat

If HIV progresses to AIDS, more severe symptoms can develop:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • High fever and chills that last several weeks
  • Profuse night sweats
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Cough or shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
  • Red, brown, pink or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids 

How Is HIV/AIDS diagnosed?

These symptoms can be related to other conditions besides HIV. The only way to diagnose the virus is with a blood test. You can get a blood test for HIV:

  • From your primary care physician during a routine exam
  • Anonymously at community health centers, hospitals, substance abuse programs and local health departments

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested at least once for HIV. People who have unsafe sex or use intravenous drugs should get tested more frequently because they are at a higher risk of getting HIV.