Note: Your progress in watching these videos WILL NOT be tracked. These training videos are the same videos you will experience when you take the full Bloodborne for Body Art program. You may begin the training for free at any time to start officially tracking your progress toward your certificate of completion.

Show full transcript for HIV and AIDS Stages video

In this lesson, we're going to take a look at the three stages of HIV infection, as well as exploring some common symptoms, and finally, we'll look at the three types of tests that are available to diagnosis the infection.

When people contract the HIV virus and do not opt for any type of treatment, they will usually progress through all three stages of the disease process – from acute HIV infection to the clinical latency period and ultimately the last phase – AIDS.

Stage 1 – Acute HIV Infection

Acute HIV infection typically occurs within two to four weeks after the person has been infected with the HIV virus. It usually is accompanied with flu-like symptoms which can last a few weeks, as this is the body's natural response to the infection.

People in Stage 1 have large amounts of the HIV virus in their blood and are extremely contagious. To compound problems, people in Stage 1 are often unaware that they even have the infection and may not feel sick immediately or at all.

To confirm HIV infection, testing is necessary. And we'll get into more details about these tests later in the lesson.

Pro Tip #1: People who suspect that they may have the HIV infection, especially if there's a chance they obtained it through drugs or sex and also have flu-like symptoms, should get tested as soon as possible.

Stage 2 – Clinical Latency (HIV Inactivity or Dormancy)

Stage 2 is sometimes referred to as the asymptomatic HIV infection period or chronic HIV infection. During this stage of the disease, the HIV virus is still active, but it reproduces at very low levels.

A person in Stage 2 may not have any symptoms at all or feel sick in any way. If not treated, this period can last 10 plus years, though some people may progress through this stage faster than others.

For those taking medications to treat their HIV, like with antiretroviral therapy (ART), Stage 2 can last several decades.

Pro Tip #2: It's important to note that people in Stage 2 can transmit the HIV infection to others. However, if taking medications like ART that suppress the infection, they will likely have very low levels of the virus in their blood, which means they are less likely to transmit the virus than someone not receiving treatment.

At the end of Stage 2, the viral load begins to increase and the CD4 cell count begins to decrease. As this happens, the HIV infected person may begin having symptoms that often accompany Stage 3.

Stage 3 – Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

Stage 3 is obviously the most severe phase of HIV infection. People who have AIDS will have badly damaged immune systems and are more likely to get an increasing number of severe illnesses as a result.

These types of illnesses are sometimes referred to as opportunistic illnesses. Without any type of treatment, people in Stage 3 typically survive about three years.

A diagnosis of AIDS is confirmed when the CD4 cell count drops below 200 cells/mm or if the person develops one of those opportunistic illnesses mentioned above. People with AIDS will have a high viral load and will be very infectious.

Common symptoms of Stage 3/AIDS include:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss

HIV/AIDS Testing and Diagnosis

The only way to know for sure if someone has the HIV infection or AIDS is to get tested. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV as part of their routine healthcare checkups.

Knowing your HIV status provides you with important information that will help you take the necessary steps to keep you and your partner healthy moving forward.

If an individual tests positive for HIV infection, medications and treatment can result in remaining healthy for many more years and greatly reduce the chance of transmitting the disease to their sex partner. And if an individual tests negative, there are more prevention tools available today that can help prevent HIV infection than ever before and keep that person from contracting the disease.

HIV and Pregnancy

Pregnant women should be tested for HIV and should begin treatment immediately if tests come back positive. If an HIV-positive woman receives treatment for HIV infection early during her pregnancy, the risk of transmitting HIV to her baby can be very low.

The 3 Types of HIV/AIDS Tests Available

1. Nucleic Acid Test (NAT)

This test looks for the actual HIV virus in the blood and is usually considered very accurate during the early stages of HIV infection. However, this test is quite expensive and not routinely used unless the individual recently had high risk or possible exposure and they're also exhibiting early symptoms of HIV infection.

2. Antigen/Antibody Test

This test looks for HIV antibodies and antigens in the blood. An antigen is a part of a virus that triggers an immune response. If you've been exposed to HIV, antigens will show up in your blood before HIV antibodies are made. This test can usually find HIV within two to six weeks of infection.

3. Antibody Test

Antibodies are produced by the body in reaction to the presence of a virus. An HIV antibody test measures the presence of antibodies in response to the presence of HIV. The most common HIV antibody tests are ELISA (EIA) and Western Blot. These tests can now be performed on samples of oral (mouth) fluid.