The progression of HIV Infection to Aids

Although the stages of HIV infection cannot in practice be precisely demarcated into separate phases, we can outline a theoretic structure of the progression of HIV infection to Aids.

Event/Period Duration Description
HIV Infection

Initial infection with HIV

Window Period Approximately 42 days No signs and symptoms of disease and no detectable antibodies to HIV. An HIV antibody test will be negative although the virus is present.
Asymptomatic HIV Less than one year to 10-15 years and more. Antibody tests are positive but there are no signs and symptoms of illness. This is the incubation period. It may be accompanied by glands staying swollen for a long time without other disease symptoms.
Symptomatic HIV Months or years Signs and symptoms of disease increase because HIV is damaging the immune system. They are not usually life threatening initially but become more serious and long lasting.
Aids Less than two years unless treatment is available The terminal stage of HIV infection. Life-threatening infections and cancers occur because the immune system is severely weakened and cannot cope. The patient dies when an untreatable life-threatening condition develops. Life expectancy depends on the conditions that develop and the treatment available, including antiretrovirals, drugs for opportunistic infections and holistic care, which includes good nutrition.

How does Aids kill?

HIV does not kill anybody directly. Instead, it weakens the body’s ability to fight disease. Infections that are rarely seen in those with normal immune systems are deadly to those with HIV. Opportunistic infections are infections that take advantage of the weakened immune systems of HIV-infected people.

People with HIV can get many infections. Many of these illnesses are very serious, and they need to be treated. Some can be prevented by the timely prescription of medication and others can be managed with early diagnosis and aggressive treatment.

There are seven common opportunistic infections:

  • Tuberculosis (TB): Most common in Africa
  • Candidiasis (thrush): Fungal infection affecting mucous membranes
  • Gastrointestinal infections: Infections that cause diarrhoea
  • Cryptococcal meningitis: Fungal infection of brain lining
  • Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP): Lung infection
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV): Viral infection of eyes, oesophagus and intestines
  • Herpes and shingles: Viral infections