The human immunodeficiency virus or HIV is one of the most feared and notorious diseases today. It can infect anyone, regardless of age, weight, height, or nationality. It is labeled as a pandemic illness because of its ability to quickly spread from one person to another.

HIV has two types : HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is the responsible pathogen in 95% of HIV infections. HIV-2 is less infectious and is mostly present in West Africa.

According to Jennifer L. Weinberg and Carrie L. Kovarik, MD in AMA Journal of Ethics, there are four clinical stages of HIV. Anyone who is infected with HIV will go through these stages. Here is some important information on each stage:

Stage 1

The first stage is known as the incubation period. No noticeable signs or symptoms are experienced during this period. This stage can last varying from a few months to several years. In most cases, after 3 months, enough antibodies are present and an HIV test kit can diagnose whether the patient is infected.

An accurate HIV test at home can be done 3 months after exposure.

Stage 2

An HIV infected person will begin manifesting symptoms like rashes, weakening of the muscles, sore throat, fever, mouth sores, and swelling of the lymph nodes. The infected person may also have an unexplained weight loss of less than 10% of total body weight. According to WHO research, a range of dermatological conditions usually appears during this stage such as herpes zoster flares, papular pruritic eruptions, seborrheic dermatitis, and fungal nail infections.

Herpes zoster flares

Stage 3

As the disease progresses, more clinical manifestations are apparent. This stage is also known as the latency period. It can persist for a few years, so a patient has to undergo antiretroviral treatment to decrease the risks and cut the length of this stage to a number of weeks at the most. Once this stage starts, the immune system will begin to produce antibodies that will battle the virus. The patient will experience weight loss more than 10% of total weight, unexplained diarrhea, pulmonary tuberculosis, and severe systemic bacterial infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, bone and joint infections, and bacteremia.

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Stage 4

This WHO clinical stage 4 is best known as AIDS and includes all of the AIDS-defining illnesses. This stage develops when HIV remains undiagnosed and untreated. AIDS patients can undergo antiretroviral treatment to slow down the damage done by the virus.

These four stages apply to adults and adolescents of 15 years and older. There is a modified version for infants and children under 15.