Without treatment, an HIV infection progresses through the acute infection stage, the chronic infection stage and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome stage, according to AIDSinfo. The infection's progression rate depends on a patient's genetic makeup, post-infection health status, how soon the infection was diagnosed and one's adherence to prescribed medication. Lifestyle choices such as eating healthy, exercising and not smoking also affect the disease progression, notes AIDS.gov.
The acute infection stage occurs within two to four weeks after a person is infected with HIV. The patient experiences flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, fever, sore throat, headache, and muscle and joint pains, explain AIDSinfo. The virus replicates rapidly and destroys infection-fighting CD4 cells, leading to a drastic fall in the patient's CD4 count. The risk of spreading the virus is highest during this stage, says AIDS.gov.
The chronic infection stage is also known as the asymptomatic or clinical latency stage. The HIV virus multiplies at a very slow rate during this stage, and the infected person shows only mild or no symptoms of the disease, according to AIDS.gov. While a person who is on antiretroviral therapy can live in this stage for several decades, individuals who are not on HIV medication progress through this stage after 10 years or less.
The final stage of HIV infection is AIDS. This stage is characterized by the body's inability to fight opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. It is diagnosed when a patient's CD4 count falls below 200 cells per millimeter cubed or after suffering from one or more opportunistic infections, notes AIDSinfo.