The HIV virus can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and affects the specific CD4 cells, or T cells, in the immune system. When HIV attacks enough T cells, the body can no longer fight off disease and infection, leading to AIDS.
Although there is no cure for HIV, there is treatment available to help slow the progression of the virus from one stage to the next. HIV is transmittable at any stage. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) helps prolong the lives of those affected with HIV.
- Acute infection: Within one month of contracting HIV, you may develop flu-like symptoms, which is called acute retroviral syndrome (ARS) or primary HIV infection. This is the body’s natural response to the virus, and some may not even develop these symptoms. Since large amounts of HIV are being produced in the body during this stage, it is extremely easy to pass the virus to others.
- Clinical latency (inactivity): During this phase of the virus, there may be no symptoms since the infection reproduction levels are so low. Those who are on ART can remain in this stage for decades, but those who are not can experience clinical latency for up to one decade, progressing to the next stage faster. During the middle to end of this period, your CD4 cell count begins to drop, weakening your immune system and making you more susceptible to infections.
- AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome): This stage of infection occurs when you become more susceptible to infections and infection-related cancers or “opportunistic illnesses.” Without treatment, those diagnosed with AIDS usually survive about 3 years. If they have AIDS and an opportunistic illness, life expectancy drops to 1 year. Treatment of AIDS is necessary to prevent death.
For information on where to find an HIV testing site,
- Visit National HIV and STD Testing Resources and enter your ZIP code.
- Text your ZIP code to KNOWIT (566948), and you will receive a text back with a testing site near you.
- Call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) to ask for free testing sites in your area.