After infection, there is a short period (after 2-6 weeks up to a few months) when a person is highly infectious and may have flu-like symptoms. This period is called seroconversion or window period and the body starts making antibodies.
Following this period of acute infection, there is an asymptomatic period in which there are no signs or symptoms of HIV infection and people can lead productive lives. The length of this period (up to 10 years or more), depends on factors such as nutrition, level of stress and anxiety, rest and healthy living. Repeated exposure to HIV (through sex or sharing needles), recurrent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and drug use, are factors that shorten this period. When the immune system weakens, a person becomes more susceptible for so-called opportunistic infections (see fact sheet 8), including thrush, skin diseases, TB, diarrhoea and fever.
A person has AIDS when the number of antibodies in the blood has gone below a certain level and when opportunistic infections are occurring. Living with AIDS is like living with any other chronic disease, sometimes a person feels sick, at other times a person feels fine and can live a normal life.