Transmission of HIV
Acute infection
Asymptomatic period
AIDS-related Complex, or ARC
The effects of HIV infection on the body have been studied thoroughly. Many studies have followed people who engage in high-risk behaviors, from before they were infected, through the entire course of the infection, to the final stage of AIDS. We now know the usual course of HIV infection with considerable precision.
In most people, HIV infection follows a clear course: transmission of the virus is followed by an acute infection that clears up spontaneously; then there is a prolonged period during which the person feels good and has no symptoms of infection, that is, is asymptomatic; the person
gradually develops the symptoms that are sometimes called AIDS-related complex, or ARC; eventually, the person develops the disease referred to as acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, which is defined by the presence of a variety of other infections in many different parts of the body, the so-called opportunistic infections.
Based on extensive studies, researchers have determined the duration, on average, of each stage. Individual people, however, spend widely varying amounts of time in each stage. Some people with positive HIV blood tests have remained healthy for over ten years, though most have declining numbers of CD4 cells, suggesting some suppression of the immune system.
The course of HIV infection is generally as follows:
Transmission of HIV, usually by blood exposure or through sexual intercourse.
Two to six weeks: Acute infection, meaning the development of an infectious
mononucleosis-like illness from which people recover in one or two weeks. Some people do not even notice this stage.
Four to twelve weeks, sometimes longer: Seroconversion, that is, the body develops antibodies to HIV, and as a consequence, the results of the blood test for the presence of antibodies to HIV are positive.
Asymptomatic interlude, during which the person feels well and functions normally except for the psychological stress that accompanies knowledge of a positive test.
Five to eight years, with considerable individual variation: symptoms of AIDS-related complex, or ARC. Some people never develop ARC but progress directly to AIDS.
Eight to ten years: AIDS as defined by diagnosis of an opportunistic infection, opportunistic tumors, or AIDS dementia.
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