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How Long Does It Take for HIV Symptoms to Show?

Patients with HIV can show no HIV symptoms for a long time, even when they can transmit the virus. Learn how the disease progresses.

An Asian man lying on a hospital bed with a mask on

Did you know you can be infected with HIV even though you don’t show HIV symptoms? 

Predicting how long the HIV virus takes to unleash its damage is difficult. In its early stages, a person infected with the virus may exhibit no HIV symptoms because it can go undetected.

It may take years until a patient starts to show HIV symptoms. Many live for years without treatment, while others deteriorate rapidly and succumb to the dreaded disease.

What HIV Is and How It Spreads  

The virus attacks and weakens the immune system, making the body susceptible to infections and cancers. It’s spread through unprotected anal or vaginal sex and the sharing of contaminated needles, syringes, drug injection equipment, and blood products. Infected mothers can also spread the infection to their unborn children. However, HIV isn’t spread through touch or the 5sharing of food.

Though many advances have been made concerning treating HIV, there’s no cure for the disease yet. However, some therapies help delay the onset or progression of the disease. The best way is to prevent the infection by avoiding unprotected sex and sharing needles.

Contact your doctor immediately if you encounter the risk of getting infected. There are medicines which can significantly reduce the risk of infection. However, they work best when taken soon after exposure.

Real Health Medical Senior TCM Physician Brandon Yew shares the Traditional Chinese Medicine view of HIV as a multi-faceted pathogen. “According to TCM, HIV causes the formation and accumulation of Fire, Dampness, phlegm, Qi Stagnation, and blood clots and Deficiencies of the five vital viscera. These are the Liver, which governs the sinews and eyes, the Heart, which regulates the blood vessels and tongue, the Spleen, which governs the muscles and oral cavity, the Lungs, which govern the skin, nose and respiratory airways, and the Kidneys, which govern the bones, ears and auditory canals”, he explains. 

HIV symptoms and stages of infection

Patient on a bed being attended to by doctors.
HIV destroys the immune system, making a person highly susceptible to infections.

As HIV may take a long time to show, its stages of illness are based on the symptoms it produces: 

  • Early infection: when a person contracts HIV, it spreads quickly in the body, often causing flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, rashes, and sore throat
  • Asymptomatic stage: the HIV virus remains in the body, causing damage to cells and weakening the immune system. At the same time, the person may have no symptoms of HIV/AIDS. This latent stage of HIV can continue for as long as eight to 10 years. Many people are unaware they have HIV until they’re tested. 
  • Symptomatic stage: As the immune system breaks down, a person with HIV will begin to feel the effects. Some symptoms include fatigue, mouth sores from oral candidiasis, diarrhoea, and weight loss. Patients are at high risk of getting infections and cancers. 
  • Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS): When there’s a complete destruction of the immune system and a marked decrease in CD4 cell counts (a type of white blood cell that locates and destroys bacteria, viruses, and germs), the condition is known as AIDS. Treatment can help delay the progression into the AIDS stage of illness.  

Treatment of HIV infections

A pile of different kinds of medicine capsules and pills
Antiretroviral therapy is a combination of different medications that can stop the virus from replicating.

In the past, an HIV and AIDS diagnosis meant a death sentence. Thanks to advances in science, this is no longer so. While scientists have yet to find a definite cure or vaccine against HIV, some treatments can considerably reduce the risk of transmission of HIV and delay the progression of the disease. Patients can now expect to live long lives even with HIV. 

Antiretroviral therapy 

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV is a combination of medications that block the replication of the virus and can help to slow the progression of HIV in the body. It can increase the chances of survival and quality of life but is not well-tolerated by all patients. The medication needs to be used lifelong and can cause liver dysfunction, damage to the liver, and bone marrow suppression due to fewer blood cells being made by the bone marrow. 

Herbal remedies 

Physician Yew suggests treatment to strengthen the body’s immune defences in the hopes of preventing the advancement of HIV to AIDS. Some herbal remedies he recommends to his patients for the acute phase of infections include: 

  • Sheng Jiang San (升降散), Bai Hu Tang (白虎汤), and Yin Qiao San (银翘散): Dispels Wind, Fire toxins, phlegm, Stagnated Qi and blood clots to relieve fever, headaches, red eyes and rash.  
  • Qing Ying Tang (清营汤), Qing Wen Bai Du Yin (败毒饮), and Yin Chen Hao Tang (茵陈蒿汤): Dispels Fire and Dampness, dissipates blood clots, nourishes yin to relieve fever, headache, and rash.  
  • Gan Lu Xiao Du Dan (甘露消毒丹) Lian Pu Yin (连朴饮), and Ge Gen Qin Lian Tang (葛根芩连汤): Dispels Wind, Fire, Dampness, and phlegm to relieve fever, headaches, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and rash.  

Physician Yew recommends the following TCM herbal formulas to address the chronic infection phase: 

  • Sheng Mai San (生脉散): Replenishes lost qi and yin energies of the Lungs and Heart.  
  • Yu Ping Feng San (玉屏风散): Replenishes lost Lung and Spleen qi, dispels residual exogenic Wind. 
  • Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang (香砂六君子汤) and Shen Ling Bai Zhu San (参苓白术散): Regenerates Spleen qi, dispels residual Dampness and phlegm.  
  • Ba Zhen Tang (八珍汤): Dispels residual blood clots and regenerates qi of the Lungs, Spleen, and Heart; replenishes lost qi and blood of the Lungs, Heart, Spleen, and Liver. 

Avoid self-medication with these remedies, as a TCM physician will prescribe them based on a patient’s body constitutions and underlying imbalances. “Take the herbal remedy at least two hours apart from ART to minimise undesirable drug-herb interactions. Consult a medical doctor and a qualified TCM practitioner to coordinate the treatments,” says Physician Yew.

Acupuncture 

Acupuncture and acupressure are alternatives if a patient is uncomfortable with the idea of taking TCM herbal medication orally due to a fear of undesirable drug-herb interactions. Physician Yew suggests the following acupoints to his patients:  

Dispel Wind

  • Qu chi (LI11, 曲池): Dispels Wind, Fire and Dampness.  
  • He gu (LI4, 合谷): Dispels Wind, Fire, Dampness and blood clots.  
  • Yu ji (LU10, 鱼际): Dispels Fire and Wind. 

Dispel Fire

  • Nei guan (PC6, 內关): Dispels Fire and blood clots. 
  • Guan yuan (RN4, 关元): Regenerates qi.  
  • Xue hai (SP10, 血海): Dispels Fire within the blood, dissipates blood clots and Dampness 

Dispel Dampness

  • Yin ling quan (SP9, 阴陵泉): Dispels Dampness and phlegm.  
  • Zu san li (ST36, 足三里): Dissipates Dampness and phlegm, regenerates Spleen qi.  

Regenerate yin

  • San yin jiao (SP6, 三阴交): Dispels Dampness and regenerates yin.  
  • Tai xi (KI3, 太溪): Dispels Dampness and regenerates yin to nourish Kidneys.  
  • Tai chong (LR3, 太冲): Dispels Wind, Fire and blood clots; regenerates yin to nourish Liver. 

With the therapies available in modern and Chinese medicine, HIV symptoms can be under control for many years. Let your physician and TCM practitioner work together to tailor the best treatment.

References

  1. Scientific Reports. 2019. Chinese herbal medicine for patients living with HIV in Guangxi provonce, China: An analysis of two registries. [online] Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-53725-x Accessed 22 Nov 2022. 
  2. Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2015.  Acupuncture to reduce HIV-associated inflammation. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4398958/ Accessed 22 Nov 2022. 
  3. Frontiers in Medicine. 2011. Practices, challenges, and opportunities: HIV/AIDS treatment with traditional Chinese medicines in China. [online] Available at:  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21695615/ Accessed 22 Nov 2022. 

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