What's in this article?
What is HIV?
HIV is a virus that affects the immune system, specifically the CD4 cells, which help protect the body from illness. Unlike other viruses the immune system can normally fight off, HIV can’t be eliminated by the immune system.
As HIV progresses, it attacks and destroys so many CD4 cells that the body can no longer fight off infection and disease. When this happens, the HIV infection can lead to the development of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). According to AIDS.gov, AIDS is the last stage of an HIV infection. It is life threatening. People with AIDS need medical treatment to survive.
The first few months following infection with HIV are known as primary HIV infection, or acute HIV infection. During this initial stage of HIV infection, the immune system is unprepared to attack the virus which therefore reproduces at very high levels. A viral load test at this stage will usually show high levels of HIV in the blood often higher than at any other stage of HIV infection. For many people, this is accompanied by a dramatic drop in CD4 count.
How to spot early HIV symptoms in men
In general, the HIV symptoms that men will experience are not all that different to those found in women. Apart from vaginal or menstrual changes all the tell-tale signs are the same in men and women.
HIV symptoms can vary significantly between patients. No two HIV-positive men will have exactly the same experience.
In general, a man’s HIV infection will follow this general pattern:
- Acute illness: This may or may not occur. Around 70% of patients notice it. If this occurs, it is most liekly to happen 1-2 weeks post infection. Symptoms include fever, sickness and chills.
- Asymptomatic period: A long period of time (up to 10 years) in which you do not experience any symptoms.
- Advanced infection: A highly weakened immune system makes you susceptible to a number of different illnesses.
One of the earliest HIV symptoms in men is a severe ‘flu-like’ illness, known as the ‘seroconversion illness.’
Seroconversion is the point in time where a person’s blood is converted from being HIV negative to HIV positive, by the production of antibodies. It is often accompanied by an acute illness, the symptoms of which vary significantly between patients.
However, a man may experience:
- Severe headaches
- Fever (with temperatures over 100 degrees F)
- Chills and sweats
- Severe muscle ache
- Sickness and diarrhoea
- Rapid weightloss
Ulcers And Other Skin Conditions
Unusual skin probelms can occur as either an early or late HIV symptom in men:
- Rashes may develop on ‘moist’ areas of a man’s body such as the groin, penis or anus
- They may develop on the face and neck, chest/ torso and palms of hands
- They may be either itchy or minor and painless
- A man might develop painful ulcers within the mouth or throat which do not go away and make eating difficult
For up to 10 years after being infected, your infection will go through an asymptomatic period where you feel perfectly healthy. During this time, the HIV virus replicates within your body and starts to break down your immune system.
Some men complain of severely swollen lymph nodes (in the neck, or groin, or both) during this time, but this may be one of the only HIV symptoms men will experience.
HIV treatment guidelines recommend that all people with HIV should take HIV treatment. The sooner you start to take HIV treatment, the sooner you can benefit from it.
Moreover, some doctors believe there may be additional advantages to starting HIV treatment in the first few months after contracting HIV. It may have a long-term benefit by helping preserve the body’s natural ability to fight HIV and by limiting the spread of HIV in the body. Treatment will also lower the risk of passing HIV on during a period in which people are unusually infectious (see below).
Your doctor may strongly recommend starting treatment now:
- If you have an AIDS-defining illness
- If your nervous system (brain, spine and nerves) are affected by HIV
- If you have a CD4 cell count below 350
- If you had an HIV-negative test result less than 12 weeks before being diagnosed with HIV.
If you are in this situation, there may be some pressure to make a decision quickly. Nonetheless you should only start treatment if you feel ready to do so. If you feel that you need time to come to terms with having HIV or to understand what treatment involves, you don’t need to start straightaway.