HIV symptoms

written by Marie Sofie Schnoor

HIV SymptomsOur friendly specialist doctors at our walk-in clinics in London can discuss symptoms, where to get HIV test, diagnosis and PrEP or PEP drug treatments. If you have any concerns about your health or questions about HIV please contact us to book a confidential appointment

Here at samedaydoctor™ we have a lot of interest in HIV, specifically with pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs which have been proven to reduce the chances of becoming infected by HIV in individuals at risk by up to 86%. This has significantly reduced the number of new HIV diagnoses.

What is HIV?

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks and damages the body’s immune system. It takes over your cells and uses them to make copies of itself, then destroys the cells. If left unchecked, it may lead to AIDS.

There is no cure for HIV at the present time, but there are very effective drugs that enable HIV positive people to live long and healthy lives without developing AIDS.
HIV can be transmitted from person to person. However, HIV positive people on effective treatment are not infectious and Can’t Pass It On.

What is AIDS?

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) may occur if a person’s immune system has been badly damaged by HIV and can be caused by a number of life-threatening illnesses or infections.
AIDS cannot be transmitted from person to person.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted from person to person through the exchange of bodily fluids: blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluid, and rectal fluid.
The most common ways it is transmitted are:

  • Vaginal, anal or oral sex-particularly receiving anal sex.
  • Sharing needles and other drug preparation equipment.
  • Getting blood into eyes, ears, nose or throat.
  • HIV can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, when she is giving birth, or when breastfeeding.

HIV cannot be transmitted through kissing, hugging, shaking hands, sharing food, mosquito bites, or any form of non-sexual physical contact.

Who is most at risk of being infected by HIV?

HIVHIV is not discriminatory and can affect anyone regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity or age. Those most at risk are people who take part in risky behaviours.

You can decrease the likelihood of being infected by using a condom during sex and having fewer sexual partners.

HIV cannot penetrate unbroken skin- therefore drug users should not share needles.

HIV prevention after sex – PEP

If a person seeks treatment up to 72 hours after possible exposure to HIV infection, there is a treatment that could stop the infection even after the virus has entered the body. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a four week course of daily drugs which has proved successful.

To increase the chances of the treatment working, it should be started within 24 hours, but has been effective up to 72 hours after exposure. The drugs must be taken as directed, and could have side effects, though these are usually quite mild: fatigue, headaches and nausea. Find out more about HIV treatment.


Scientists are working hard to find a vaccine, but to date have been unable to develop one. However, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs have been shown to reduce risk of infection by up to 86% for high-risk individuals. Find out more about HIV treatment.

Common symptoms of early HIV infection

Shortly after becoming infected, people may experience a short illness for a week or two, which is a sign the virus is having an effect on their immune system. This is known as a seroconversion illness. It can be very mild, making people think they’ve had a bout of ‘flu, or severe enough to hospitalise people.

Common symptoms of seroconversion include a sore throat, fever, and/or rash.

It could be many more years before other symptoms become noticeable enough to seek medical attention.

Common symptoms of later HIV infection

If HIV is undetected and untreated, the virus will attack a person’s immune system and their CD4 count will drop – CD4 cells are the white blood cells (sometimes known as T cells) that are important to the immune system. A damaged immune system will leave a person more susceptible to infections and diseases.

The most common symptoms of later HIV infection are weight loss, night sweats, oral thrush, swollen glands in the neck, armpit or groin areas, diarrhoea, joint pain, nausea, herpes or cold sore outbreaks and fatigue. These symptoms can also be indicative of other illnesses.

Should I get tested for HIV?

HIV testIf you think you might be at risk of becoming infected with HIV, it is a good idea to be tested on a regular basis. Regular testing will keep you in control – those who are HIV positive will be able to get treatment early which will not only improve their chances of living well, it will also decrease the possibility of passing the infection on.

People at high risk of infection should be tested every 3-6 months.

Find out where you can get a confidential HIV test with fast results.

How being tested for HIV helps

The earlier a person is diagnosed HIV positive, the earlier treatment can begin. The earlier treatment starts, the more effective it is and the more likely it is that a person can live a longer and healthier life.

A diagnosis will enable a person to make better informed lifestyle choices and take steps to minimise the risks of passing the infection on. Medical evidence has shown that people on effective HIV treatment cannot pass the infection on.

Pregnant women can take steps to protect their babies from becoming infected.

Peace of mind.

Find out where you can get a confidential HIV test with fast results.

Where can I get tested for HIV?

SameDayDoctor™ clinics in both London and Manchester offer different HIV blood tests according to the length of time since exposure to risks, with same day or next day results.

How can I prevent being infected by HIV?

You can take measures to help reduce the risk of being infected by HIV:

  • Ask questions – talk to your sexual partner to find out if they are HIV positive, or if they have been tested for HIV and other STIs.
  • Use condoms.
  • Use lubrication – lubrication will help prevent tears in the anal and vaginal walls, as well as reducing the risk of the condom breaking.
  • Do not share needles.
  • PEP – if you think you may have been exposed to risk of infection, ask your doctor for a course of post-exposure prophylaxis treatment within 72 hours.

Are there any risk factors to avoid getting HIV?

Oral sex – the risk of HIV transmission via oral sex is low but it does happen. Risks are increased if the person giving oral sex has cuts, sore or abrasions in their mouth, or a sore throat or mouth infection. Risks are increased if the person receiving oral sex is HIV positive and has sores, cuts or inflammation in the genital area.

Unprotected sex with someone who has been infected.

STI – anyone who has had an STI is at greater risk of being infected by HIV.

Number of sexual partners – the more sexual partners a person has, the greater the risk.

Injecting drugs with dirty needles, or having sex with someone who has done so.

Further questions about HIV

HIV clinicIf you have any questions or concerns about your health, HIV symptoms, diagnosis or PrEP treatment please contact us to book a confidential appointment with one of our friendly specialist private doctors at our walk-in HIV clinics in London.

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