Signs and symptoms of HIV depend on the phase of infection and vary from flu-like symptoms to fulminant infection, according to Mayo Clinic. Tests designed to document infection are essential in establishing a diagnosis.
Within 30 to 60 days after infection, the majority of individuals experience flu-like symptoms, explains Mayo Clinic. These include headache, fever, chills, rash, muscle ache, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, joint pain and night sweats. Viral load is high, and the virus spreads easily. The primary phase lasts several weeks, transitioning into a clinically latent stage where infected individuals display few symptoms. Latent infection can last up to eight to 10 years.
Early symptomatic infection results from continued viral multiplication and destruction of immune cells. Individuals develop mild infections as well as swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, fatigue, cough, diarrhea, fever and shortness of breath. Without treatment, according to Mayo Clinic, the disease progresses to full-blown AIDS. This can take up to 10 years, and it signals significant damage to the immune system with susceptibility to opportunistic infection. Symptoms include cough, night sweats, shaking chills, fever, chronic diarrhea and weight loss. Other symptoms include vision and breathing difficulties, chronic fatigue and skin rashes.
Tests used to diagnose HIV infection include the HIV antibody test, which detects antibodies in the urine, blood and saliva. Antibody levels are sufficient for detection in three to six months, according to the National Institutes of Health. Another test detects the virus directly, eliminating the need for antibody production, but it is costly.