What are the symptoms of HIV infection?
This frequently asked question is something I'd love not to answer. Because there really ain't got a clear-cut, definitive symptoms for HIV infection. It is actually vague and could sometimes be misleading.
Simply put, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks our immune system. From the name itself, it renders the human immune system, specifically our CD4 (thus, the regular check on our CD4 count), less active than normal (a deficient immune system). Now, the common sense part. What happens when our immune system suddenly becomes weak, less active, or deficient? Oh wait, let's save the common sense part for later.
First, let's try to answer this question. What does our immune system do? According to Wikipedia, a not so reliable source of information, it is a system of biological structures and processes within an organism that protects against disease. It detects a wide variety of agents known as pathogens, from viruses to parasitic worms, and distinguish them from the organism's own healthy tissue.
Now, what happens when our immune system suddenly becomes weak, less active, or deficient? It results in recurring and life-threatening infections. What seems to be an ordinary infection in a healthy individual could already be debilitating to HIV infected persons. Say, a simple cough and colds to a healthy person could already be life-threatening to an HIV infected individual.
Opportunistic infection. The pathogen (offending organism) takes advantage of the compromised immune system and presents an opportunity for it to infect the person.
And the symptoms are individualized, depending on what infection an HIV infected person succumbed to. If he got pneumonia, then he may present with cough, colds, and pleuritic chest pain. If he got gastroenteritis (diarrhea), he may present with loose bowel movement.
But generally, patients with mismanaged or a beginning HIV infection may present with swollen lymph nodes, fever, body weakness, and weight loss. Such symptoms are collectively called constitutional symptoms because it does not pertain to a specific infection and it could actually point to any numerous disease entities, thus the late diagnosis at times. Therefore, a complete, thorough and accurate history (sexual history to be exact) is necessary.
There you go, the next time someone asks me this question, I might just lead you to this blog entry. :)