14 Most-Overlooked HIV Symptoms

A doctor examining a patient in a hospital gown hivIt can take HIV symptoms years to appear—sometimes even longer—after infection. But within a month or two of HIV entering the body, 40% to 90% of people experience symptoms known as acute retroviral syndrome (ARS).

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In the early stages of HIV infection, the most common symptoms are none. One in five people in the United States with HIV don’t know they have it, which is why it’s so important to get tested, especially if you have unprotected sex with more than one partner or use intravenous drugs.

Here are some signs that are vastly overlooked that may reveal a positive HIV status:

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1. Fever

One of the first signs of ARS can be a mild fever, up to about 102 degrees F. The fever, if it occurs at all, is often accompanied by other usually mild symptoms, such as fatigue, swollen lymph glands, and a sore throat. At this point the virus is moving into the blood stream and starting to replicate in large numbers. As that happens, there is an inflammatory reaction by the immune system.

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A man slumped on top of his desk

2. Fatigue

The inflammatory response generated by your besieged immune system also can cause you to feel tired and lethargic. Fatigue can be both an early and later sign of HIV. Achy muscles, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes. ARS is often mistaken for the flu, mononucleosis, or another viral infection, even syphilis or hepatitis.

That’s not surprising: Many of the symptoms are the same, including pain in the joints and muscles and swollen lymph glands. Lymph nodes are part of your body’s immune system and tend to get inflamed when there’s an infection. Many of them are located in your armpit, groin, and neck.

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A woman with a headache touching her forehead

3. Sore throat and headache

As with other symptoms, sore throat and headache can often be recognized as ARS only in context. If you’ve engaged recently in high-risk behavior, an HIV test is a good idea. Get tested for your own sake and for others: HIV is most infectious in the earliest stage.

Keep in mind that the body hasn’t produced antibodies to HIV yet so an antibody test may not pick it up. (It can take a few weeks to a few months for HIV antibodies to show in a blood test). Investigate other test options such as one that detects viral RNA, typically within nine days of infection.

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