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HIV Overview

The Stages of HIV Infection

(Last updated 9/27/2013; last reviewed 9/27/2013)

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Key Points

  • Without treatment, HIV infection advances in stages, getting worse over time.
  • The three stages of HIV infection are (1) acute HIV infection, (2) chronic HIV infection, and (3) acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
  • HIV can be transmitted (spread) during any stage of infection, but the risk is greatest during acute HIV infection.
  • There is no cure for HIV infection, but HIV medicines can prevent the advance of HIV to AIDS. HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. HIV medicines also reduce the risk of HIV transmission (the spread of HIV to others).

Without treatment, HIV infection advances in stages, getting worse over time. HIV gradually destroys the immune system and eventually causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)

There is no cure for HIV infection, but HIV medicines can prevent the advance of HIV to AIDS. HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. HIV medicines also reduce the risk of HIV transmission (the spread of HIV to others). 

There are three stages of HIV infection:


1.) Acute HIV Infection
Acute HIV infection is the earliest stage of HIV. Acute HIV infection can occur within 2 to 4 weeks after a person is infected with HIV. In some people, this stage of HIV infection can take up to 3 months to develop. During acute HIV infection, many people have flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, and rash. In the acute stage of infection, HIV multiplies rapidly and spreads throughout the body. The virus attacks and destroys the infection-fighting CD4 cells of the immune system. HIV can be transmitted during any stage of infection, but the risk is greatest during acute HIV infection.

2.) Chronic HIV Infection
The second stage of HIV infection is chronic HIV infection (also called asymptomatic HIV infection or clinical latency.) During this stage of the disease, HIV continues to multiply in the body but at very low levels. People with chronic HIV infection may not have any HIV-related symptoms, but they can still spread HIV to others. Chronic HIV infection can last up to 10 years or longer.

3.) AIDS 
AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. Because HIV has destroyed the immune system, the body can’t fight off opportunistic infections and cancer. (Examples of opportunistic infections include pneumonia and tuberculosis.) AIDS is diagnosed when a person with HIV has a CD4 count of less than 200 cells/mm3 and/or one or more opportunistic infections. Without treatment, people with AIDS typically survive about 3 years.

This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources: