No Symptoms

A person infected with HIV may not have any symptoms for about three to ten years, depending on the natural defence mechanism of the body. He/she can still spread the infection to others. This is the reason why practice of safe sex is recommended when one is involved with multiple partners. This means using condoms correctly for every sexual act.

To understand why HIV infection does not cause immediate symptoms, it is important to understand what happens in the body, soon after the entry of HIV. As mentioned earlier, HIV infects a large number of T (killer) lymphocytes soon after it enters the body.

It multiplies rapidly in the T4 cells that contain CD4 particles. During the early or acute stage of the infection, the blood will contain a large number of viral particles. These particles rapidly spread through various organs and infect them. They particularly infect the organs of the lymphatic system.

People with HIV infection do not develop persistent severe symptoms for up to 10 years after the virus enters the body. Children born with HIV infection may however develop the symptoms within two years. The symptoms appear because of the gradually diminishing defence mechanism of the body. This is the stage when AIDS develops.

Most symptoms or AIDS are due to opportunistic infections that occur taking advantage of the body’s poor defence mechanism. The symptoms of AIDS are divided into major and minor symptoms. As per the definition of AIDS given by the WHO, a person is said to have full blown AIDS if he/she has at least two major signs and at least one minor sign and there is no other cause of poor immune mechanism. The term "AIDS related illness" is used when a person has some signs and symptoms, has antibodies to HIV in the blood but does not have two major and one minor sign.

Signs and symptoms of AIDS

Minor signs:

  • Cough for more than one month, not responding to routine treatment
  • Enlargement of the lymph nodes in the various parts of the body.
  • Fungal infection of the mouth or throat called thrush or oral candidiasis
  • Dermatitis: itchy skin lesions all over the body.
  • Recurrent infections of herpes zoster, a viral infection that results in painful and small eruptions on the skin along the path of a nerve affected by the virus.
  • Chronic herpes simplex, another viral infection that affects the nervous system. It results in small irritating or painful fluid filed blisters on the skin and inner lining of body cavities that open outside, such as mouth, respiratory tract, urinary tract, etc.

Major signs:

  • Unexplained loss of weight, greater than 10% of the total body weight during one month.
  • Chronic fever that lasts for than one month.
  • Chronic diarrhoea that lasts for more than one month.
  • Diarrhoea is very common in people with AIDS. It is normally clear and watery and may be associated with cramp like pain in the abdomen and vomiting. Chronic diarrhoea with excessive loss of weight is an important feature of AIDS and in most cases the first point of suspicion. There may also be continuous fever and increased sweating at nights.

Minor signs:

Fungal infection of the mouth: One of the common symptoms of AIDS is an infection of the mouth called candidiasis which is due to a type of fungus called candida albicans. Candidiasis results in a thick, white, fur like coating on the tongue and rarely on the roof of the mouth. It can cause dryness of the mouth, difficulty in swallowing and altered sense of taste. This infection is not common among people with normal defence mechanism because their body is able to fight the infection successfully.

Candidiasis may also be present in old people with poor defence mechanism, sick children and babies who are bottle fed. It can also affect the vagina in women. Candidiasis in people with AIDS can also spread to the lungs and digestive tract.

Fungal infection of the lungs: Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia is the fungal infection of the lungs that results in symptom similar to pneumonia due to bacterial infection. It results in persistent dry cough and death can occur when it spreads to other organs of the body.

Infection due to Herpes viruses: Herpes simplex and Herpes zoster are the two common infections in AIDS. Though Herpes can affect anyone, it is severe in people with AIDS. The painful sores usually occur inside or around the mouth, genital area or area around the anus.

What are the opportunistic infections in AIDS?

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