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Does this describe your symptoms?

  • Seeking information about Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), a sexually transmitted disease.

General Information
  • HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the cause of AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).
  • The virus attacks a person's immune system, eventually making the person susceptible to a variety of different infections.

What are some risky behaviors that increase the chance of getting HIV?

  • Sharing needles or syringes.
  • Having sexual intercourse (vagina, rectum, or oral) and not using a condom.
  • Having sexual intercourse with someone who might have HIV.

Early HIV Infection

Many people have a flu-like illness when they first get HIV. Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Enlarged lymph nodes


  • AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
  • AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection.
  • It is diagnosed when a person has:
    • A CD4 white blood cell count less than 200
    • An opportunistic infection, which is any of a number of rare infections that normally do not occur in healthy persons.
Additional Resources
  1. American Social Health Association
    • “Answers to your questions about teen sexual health and sexually transmitted diseases.”
  2. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines 2002. MMWR. 2002; 51(RR-6):1-80.
  3. Public Health Agency of Canada
  4. AIDS info
    • AIDS info is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of AIDS Research
    • “AIDS info is a comprehensive resource for up-to-date information on government and industry sponsored HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention clinical trials. AIDS info also maintains the most current, federally approved guidelines for treating and preventing HIV/AIDS in adults and children, for AIDS related illnesses, for managing occupational exposure to HIV and for preventing HIV transmission from mother-to-child during pregnancy.”

If not, see these topics
  • How to PREVENT a sexually transmitted disease
  • PENIS SYMPTOMS (male genital symptoms)
  • VULVAR SYMPTOMS (female genital symptoms)
  • Questions about CHLAMYDIA, a sexually transmitted disease
  • Questions about GONORRHEA, a sexually transmitted disease
  • Questions about HERPES, a sexually transmitted disease
  • Questions about PUBIC LICE, a sexually transmitted disease
  • Questions about TRICHOMONAS, a sexually transmitted disease

When to Call Your Doctor

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • You were forced to have sex (sexual assault or rape)
  • You had sexual intercourse (in the past 72 hours) with someone who was diagnosed with HIV
  • You (or someone you know) have been diagnosed with HIV and have any of the following:
    • Seizure occurs
    • Fever greater than 100.5° F (38.1° C)
    • Unable to stand or walk
    • Confusion or abnormal behavior
    • Shortness of breath
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think you need to be seen
  • You have been diagnosed with HIV and have any of the following:
    • New or persisting headache
    • Significant unplanned weight loss
    • Persisting diarrhea
    • Night sweats
    • Cough lasting more than 3 days
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
  • You had sexual intercourse with someone who was diagnosed with HIV and you develop "flu"-like symptoms (Reason: possible symptoms of early HIV infection)
  • You are worried you might have a sexually transmitted disease
Self Care at Home If
  • No symptoms and you don't think you need to be seen
  • Questions about HIV

  1. How is HIV transmitted?
    • HIV is spread by any sexual behaviors (heterosexual or homosexual) that involve the exchange of certain body fluids, including vaginal fluids, semen, and blood. HIV can enter the body through the mouth, penis, vagina-vulva, and rectum.
    • The following do not transmit HIV: saliva, tears, sweat or urine. There is no evidence that you can get HIV from kissing.
    • HIV can be spread from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding.
    • HIV is also spread by sharing needles or syringes, for example, during injection of street drugs.
    • All donated blood in the United States is screened for HIV so that receiving donated blood is considered safe and HIV transmission is very rare.
    • Latex condoms are very effective at preventing HIV transmission during sexual intercourse.
  2. How long does it usually take for symptoms to appear once one is exposed? The incubation period for HIV is days to weeks. Symptoms nearly always appear within 3 months.
  3. How can I get tested for HIV?
    • HIV is diagnosed with a blood test. This test may be done anonymously (you are given the result without your name ever being known) or confidentially (through your own doctor).
    • Anonymous testing sites can be located by calling the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention AIDS Hotline at 1-800-342-AIDS. Whether done anonymously or confidentially, it is important that you share the information with your doctor.
  4. What is the treatment for HIV?
    • There is no known cure for HIV, but there are medications that can delay the onset of AIDS and keep a person feeling healthy for a long time.
  5. STD National Hotline
    • The CDC National STD Hotline provides information on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV/genital warts, herpes, and HIV/AIDS. Specialists can provide general information, referrals to local clinics, and written materials about STDs and disease prevention.
    • Toll-free number (English): (800) 227-8922
    • Toll-free number (Spanish): (800) 344-7432
    • Their website is at:
  6. Pregnancy test, when in doubt:
    • If there is any possibility of pregnancy, obtain and use a urine pregnancy test from the local drug store.
    • Follow the instructions included in the package.
  7. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Pregnancy test is positive or if you have difficulties with the home pregnancy test
    • You want to get a HIV test
    • You become worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: David A. Thompson, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/15/2011

Last Revised: 4/2/2009

Content Set: Adult HouseCalls Symptom Checker

Copyright 2000-2012. Self Care Decisions LLC; LMS, Inc.