HIV Explained

Living with HIV

What happens when I first get HIV?

Some people have no symptoms when they are first infected with HIV but many people get a ‘seroconversion’ illness. During seroconversion, HIV enters the body and begins to multiply rapidly. Seroconversion illness often includes flu-like symptoms like tiredness, headache, lethargy, aching joints, fevers, night sweats, a rash, diarrhoea, and/or swollen lymph glands. Seroconversion illness usually lasts a week or two. Because seroconversion illness feels a lot like the flu or other illnesses, many people do not recognise it as a sign of HIV infection.

“It was shock. Numbness. The first HIV test I ever had came back positive. I only had the test because a friend suggested it.”

What does HIV infection mean in the long term?

After the first few weeks, HIV attacks the immune system more slowly so most people feel well for years. Even without treatment, the average time before clear symptoms emerge is around seven years, but it generally ranges from about two to 15 years.

HIV treatments have dramatically changed the experiences of people living with HIV. Modern treatments can keep you well long-term. A person recently diagnosed who is in the early stages of HIV infection can anticipate a life expectancy similar to their HIV-negative peers. However, every person is different so your experience of living with HIV will be based on the interaction of factors including:

  • how advanced your HIV infection is when you are diagnosed
  • how well you look after yourself emotionally and physically
    decisions about HIV treatments
  • how well treatments work for you
  • factors based on your own physiology and genetics
  • co-infection with other illnesses such as sexually transmissible infections and hepatitis