In 2015 an estimated 7 million South Africans were living with HIV, while there were 380,000 new infections and 180,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses.

Although SA has the largest antiretroviral treatment (ART) programme globally, HIV prevalence remains high among the general population.

Symptoms associated with HIV and advanced HIV (Aids) do vary, however it’s important to seek immediate medical advice if you ever feel you may be experiencing changes to your state of health.

These are some of the symptoms to look out for:


  1. Pain in the abdomen
  2. Pain/difficulty swallowing
  3. Dry cough
  4. Fatigue
  5. Fever
  6. Loss of appetite
  7. Malaise/illness
  8. Night sweats/sweating
  9. Nausea, persistent diarrhoea, vomiting, or watery diarrhoea
  10. Mouth ulcers or white tongue
  11. Groin sores or swelling
  12. Opportunistic infection
  13. Headache
  14. Oral thrush
  15. Pneumonia
  16. Red blotches/skin rash
  17. Severe unintentional weight loss
  18. Swollen lymph nodes

During the first few weeks of having HIV, the immune system tries to mount a defense.

Similar to the defense that occurs if the immune system detects influenza, mononucleosis or rubella.

This immune response can cause some people to have initial symptoms that usually go away within a few weeks, while others may not notice any changes.

This is usually followed by a long period in which there are no symptoms at all.

Even if the person doesn’t take antiretroviral treatment, they usually remain in fairly good health for several years.

But untreated HIV will, slowly and surely, damage the immune system (the body’s natural defense system).

This makes people vulnerable to a wide range of health problems.

The symptoms of advanced HIV disease (AIDS) are in fact the symptoms of other infections and diseases that the weakened immune system has been unable to keep under control.

Getting tested

Though it can be nerve-wracking to get tested for HIV, it is important.

Even without symptoms, an infected person is still contagious and can easily infect others through an exchange of bodily fluids.

Taking an HIV test is the only way to determine whether you have the disease. So be smart, stay safe, and protect others.

Talk to your doctor about getting tested if you are sexually active, have ever shared needles, or have other reason to think that you may have been infected with HIV.

The Basics

  • HIV is the virus that causes HIV infection. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.
  • HIV is spread through contact with the blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, or breast milk of a person infected with HIV. Individuals cannot become infected through ordinary day-to-day contact such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or sharing personal objects, food or water.
  • The use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV regimen) every day. ART can’t cure HIV infection, but it can help people infected with HIV live longer, healthier lives. HIV medicines can also reduce the risk of transmission of HIV.