What are the Early Stages of HIV Symptoms?

What is HIV ARS?

HIV Acute Retroviral Syndrome (ARS) is the body’s early response to a HIV infection. HIV symptoms will take time to occur, at least two to six weeks for this is how long the body will take to mount an immune response that will give off these HIV symptoms.

What are the early symptoms of HIV infection?

HIV is a virus that attacks the body as a whole with nearly every organ system being affected. The severity and combination of the disease presentation may vary from person to person though. An abbreviated list is shown below.

General – Fever, Sweats, Lethargy, Malaise, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss

Skin – Rash, ulcers , Sore throat

Digestive – Nausea, Diarrhea, Loss of Appetite

Neurological – Headache

Musculo-Skeletal – Muscle aches, Joint aches

Who gets HIV ARS symptoms?

There is no method to ascertain who develops ARS symptoms and when they get it. It is widely thought that between 50-90% of people who are infected with HIV gets the HIV ARS symptoms.

When do HIV symptoms appear and how long do they last?

Most people report symptoms at about three weeks post exposure to the virus. The symptoms can occur anytime between two and six weeks post infection though. Usually, once developed, symptoms last two weeks but there have been reports of symptoms persisting up to ten weeks post infection.

‘Flu-like’ is not ‘Cold-like’

ARS has been described as mononucleosis-like symptoms. These usually result in a persistently high fever, horrible bodyaches and absolute lethargy.

This is not similar to when someone has the ‘flu’ which usually is interpreted as having a runny nose, sore throat or mild cough.

The HIV ARS Rash

The basic rule of thumb is that if you have to hunt for a spot of rash on your body, it is not an HIV rash. An HIV rash is a generalised red rash that looks similar to measles. It comes on two to three days after a fever and lasts for at least two weeks. It is usually up to 1cm in diameter and almost always appears at the upper chest and shoulder areas.

The HIV ARS Fever

The HIV ARS fever is a high-grade fever (>38.5 Celcius) and is associated with tiredness, muscle aches, and joint pains. It usually lasts more than two weeks but can be longer.

The HIV ARS Lymph Nodes

Enlarging lymph nodes usually are a sign of an active infection in the body. In thin individuals, a normal non-enlarged lymph node may be palpated at normal times. This is not a cause of concern.

HIV ARS lymph node enlargment is usually painful and are about 1cm in diameter. It can present in the neck, groin and underarms.

The HIV ARS Sore Throat and Mouth Ulcers

HIV ARS causes a really bad throat infection that lead to a painful swallowing because of the inflammation with pus noted from the tonsils at times. The tonsils can be enlarged with ulcers forming on them as well. These ulcers are usually five to ten millimeters around .

What other diseases have the same symptoms as HIV ARS (HIV Symptoms)?

HIV Acute Retroviral Syndrome can mimick a lot of other conditions because of the early nature of the infection. Illnesses such as Influenza, infectious mononucleosis, acute Hepatitis A or B, Parvovirus, Cytomegalovirus, Rubella and Toxoplasma infections must be ruled out first.


The only way to know for sure if you are infected with HIV or not is to get tested. Until that is done, try not to worry about your HIV symptoms.

If you have to worry, then worry if you fulfil the following criteria:

  • You have had a high risk exposure 2 to 6 weeks ago
  • You have a fever above 38.5⁰C that just does not go away
  • You have multiple small red spots covering your face, neck and upper chest
  • You have a really bad sore throat with ulcers in your mouth
  • You have been diagnosed with another STD like Gonorrhea or Chlamydia

Anonymous HIV Testing in Singapore is also available in Robertson Walk Branch

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