In its early stages, HIV infection may have no symptoms or may cause a flu-like illness with some of the following symptoms: fever, sore throat, rash, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches, headaches, and joint pain. Although most people experience symptoms within the first few weeks of being infected with HIV, most people and doctors dismiss the illness as a routine cold or flu. In a small number of cases, this early stage of infection may progress to meningitis (inflammation of membranes covering the brain) or severe flulike symptoms that require hospitalization.
As the number of CD4 cells drops below normal (500 to 2,000 cells per cubic millimeter of blood), the person may begin to develop swollen lymph nodes and skin problems, such as varicella-zoster (shingles), seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), new or worsening psoriasis, and minor infections. Ulcers can develop around the mouth and herpes outbreaks (oral or genital) may become more frequent.
Over the next few years, as CD4 cells continue to die, skin problems and mouth ulcers develop more often. Many people develop diarrhea, fever, unexplained weight loss, joint and muscle pain, and fatigue. Old tuberculosis infections may reactivate even before AIDS develops. (Tuberculosis is one of the most common HIV/AIDS-related infections in the developing world.)
Finally, with further decreases in the levels of CD4 cells, the person develops AIDS. According to the CDC, for an HIV-infected person, some signs that AIDS has developed (known as AIDS-defining conditions) are:
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