Lack of early warning symptoms is part of what makes HIV quite devastating. In fact, many people may get infected, but because no actual symptoms are experienced, it is difficult to tell if one has been infected or not. For that reason, many people don’t realize it until it is too late and in many cases after putting their partners at risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is at least one individual in every seven that is infected but unaware. The lack of early symptoms may be responsible for most of these individuals.
Statistics indicate that over 80% of people infected with HIV-1 got affected through the exposure of the mucosal surface to the virus while the rest infected by intravenous injections. What is interesting, however, is the fact that regardless of the transmission route, the timing of the appearance of viral and host symptoms of infection are uniform and follow a specific pattern.
Immediately after exposure and transmission, the virus starts replicating and multiplying in the mucosa and sub-mucosa among other body tissues and cells. At this time, the virus cannot be detected in plasma. During this period (also known as the eclipse phase) lasts for between 7 and 21 days. It is only after the virus reaches a concentration of 1 of 5 copies per millimeter in the plasma that it can be detected using specific sensitive qualitative methods. By the time the concentration gets to 50 copies per millimeter, the virus can be detected using quantitative clinical assays that are used in monitoring the viral load.
During that period, symptoms of HIV infections occur starting from the first to the fourth week after infection but sometimes may take up to six weeks. This is because the virus takes time to infect more cells before it starts to replicate and spread throughout the body. The initial symptoms are usually described as flu-like and include severe fever, headache, and fatigue, shortness of breath, night sweats, sore throat, and swelling of lymph nodes.
If the first stage of HIV infection goes without any of the symptoms being witnessed, then no doubt it may take longer before real symptoms appear. This is because the second stage (asymptomatic) does not come with any symptoms and may take up to 10 years before the symptoms appear. The virus, however, will continue replicating and spreading as more white blood cells are damaged before the last stage which comes with severe symptoms accompanied by various opportunistic infections. This may take up to 10 years, but if no ART medication was used, the symptoms will be severe and will be difficult to manage.
As earlier mentioned, you may not entirely rely on the early symptoms to show, instead wait for three months to elapse since you are exposed and visit a nearby VCT center to get an antibody test which will give the real and correct HIV status. It has been established that one is almost 20 times more contagious during the acute stage than at any other time during infection. The best thing is always to play safe, get tested regularly and start ART medication as soon as possible.