Acute Infection Stage
This is the period shortly after someone has been infected with HIV. During this stage the virus is highly concentrated in your body, so you are at higher risk of transmitting HIV to others.
Within 2-4 weeks after HIV infection many people develop flu-like symptoms. This is the body’s natural response to the HIV infection. Large amounts of virus are being produced in your body. The virus uses CD4 cells to replicate (produce more of itself ) and destroys these cells in the process. Because of this, your CD4 count can fall rapidly.
Clinical Latency Stage
In the next stage of HIV infection, the virus is developing in your body without producing symptoms, or only mild ones. The virus continues to reproduce at very low levels, and it is less active.
In the past, this was usually when ARV treatment is started, at a CD4 count of 500. Presently, you will go onto treatment immediately if you are tested HIV+.
People in this symptom-free stage are still able to transmit HIV to others, even if they are on ARVs, although ARVs reduce the risk of transmission.
This is the stage of HIV infection that occurs when your immune system is badly damaged and you become vulnerable to opportunistic infections. When the number of your CD4 cells falls below 200 you are considered to have progressed to AIDS. (In someone with a healthy immune system, CD4 counts are between 500 and 1,600).
If you are taking ARVs and maintain a low viral load, you may enjoy a normal life span. You will most likely never progress to Aids.
Factors Affecting Disease Progression
People living with HIV may progress through these stages at different rates, depending on a variety of factors, including their genetic makeup, how healthy they were before they were infected, how soon after infection they are diagnosed and linked to care and treatment, whether they see their healthcare provider regularly and whether they take their HIV medications as directed.