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HIV is a virus that affects the immune system, specifically the CD4 cells. The CD4 cells help protect the body from illness. Unlike other viruses that the immune system can fight off, HIV can’t be eliminated by the immune system.
The symptoms of HIV can vary greatly from person to person. No two people with HIV will likely experience the exact same symptoms. However, HIV will generally follow this pattern:
- acute illness
- asymptomatic period
- advanced infection
Approximately 80 percent of people who contract HIV experience flu-like symptoms within two to four weeks. This flu-like illness is known as acute HIV infection. Acute HIV infection is the primary stage of HIV and lasts until the body has created antibodies against the virus.
The most common symptoms of this stage of HIV include:
Less common symptoms may include:
- swollen lymph nodes
- ulcers in the mouth or on the genitals
- muscle aches
- joint pain
- nausea and vomiting
- night sweats
Symptoms typically last one to two weeks. Anyone who has these symptoms and thinks they may have contracted HIV should consider scheduling an appointment with their healthcare provider to get tested.
Symptoms of HIV are generally the same in women and men. One HIV symptom that is unique to men is an ulcer on the penis.
HIV may lead to hypogonadism, or poor production of sex hormones, in either sex. However, hypogonadism’s effects on men are easier to observe than its effects on women. Symptoms of low testosterone, one aspect of hypogonadism, can include erectile dysfunction (ED).