Q and A

Question

What is seroconversion and what are the symptoms?

Answer

HIV seroconversion is a very early stage of HIV infection. It is the time when a person first develops antibodies for HIV.

At this point an HIV antibody test will still be negative. The word just means that your sero status is converting from being HIV antibody negative to HIV antibody positive.

Seroconversion usually occurs starts 1-3 weeks after infection, with average time being around 10 days. Although 4 in 5 people (80%) get symptoms, 1 in 5 (20%) do not.

Symptoms

The symptoms of HIV seroconversion resemble those of a heavy cold or flu.

They commonly involve multiple symptoms that all occur at the same time. They last about a week and then resolve. If you get this heavy response and recently had a risk, it is more important to contact a doctor or clinic. This can decide your level of risk and the best time to test.

However, lots of people get some of these symptoms and it does not mean they are HIV positive. Stress and anxiety can produce similar general symptoms even though without HIV. This includes tiredness from not sleeping, anxiety and worry.

The most common HIV seroconversion symptoms include a combination of several of the following:

  • Fatigue (tiredness).
  • Fever (high temperature).
  • Sore throat.
  • Rash.
  • Headache.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Aching muscles and joints.
  • Swollen lymph glands.

Seroconversion involves several symptoms that all start at the same time. Only having one or two of these symptoms is unlikely to be HIV.

These symptoms are not a reliable way of diagnosing HIV infection.

Firstly, 20% of people who become infected with HIV have no symptoms. Secondly, none of the symptoms listed above, on their own, are an indication of HIV.

However, if you get several of these symptoms at the same time AND you have had a recent risk of exposure to HIV, then this MIGHT be an indication of infection.

The only way to know if you are HIV positive is by taking an HIV test. More information on tests is at this link.

If you have recently been exposed to HIV, or think you may have been exposed to HIV, then contact a doctor or sexual health clinic to talk about whether testing for HIV is appropriate.

This answer was updated in January 2018 and April 2015 from an original Q&A from 2008. i-Base no longer answers individual questions about HIV transmission and risk. (See: Question 1 at this link).

91 comments

  1. Frank

    Ok doctor what is the most common symptom on HIV ? I had a very close friend he didn’t sleep for two night and he had a heavy cold at the third night . He couldn’t stand on his own . He lost his appetite and it lasted for one week . Does it mean he has bin infected ? What is really the common symptom apart from cold and headche and loss of appetite .

  2. Simon Collins

    Hi Frank

    Answers to questions on transmission and testing are already online at the FAQ page.
    http://i-base.info/qa/factsheets/hiv-transmission-and-testing

    or in this guide:
    http://i-base.info/guides/testing

  3. Frank

    I had cold and I was unable to eat for three days . Is it that I have contacted hiv ?

  4. Simon Collins

    Hi Ronald, this is a common experience – you have just been very lucky – see:
    http://i-base.info/qa/7308

  5. Ronald

    I have been living with my wife who is HIV positive for 8 years and am negative is that possible?

  6. Roy Trevelion

    Hi, This question is about seroconversion, so ‘recent’ in this case is about 1-3 weeks after infection.

    Most questions about transmission and testing have been answered here:
    http://i-base.info/qa/factsheets/hiv-transmission-and-testing

  7. Ryan

    When you say recent what exactly does that mean? Like a few months ago or a week or two?

    I am also having some of the symptoms listed so I went and took a test and it came back negative, my “exposure” was a little like three months ago. Is it common to develop symptoms long after exposure?

  8. Roy Trevelion

    We are not doctors and so we can’t answer questions about symptoms.

    And i-Base no longer answers individual questions about risks of HIV transmission or HIV testing. This service is based on information relating to HIV treatment for people who are HIV positive.

    Most questions about transmission and testing have been answered here:
    http://i-base.info/qa/factsheets/hiv-transmission-and-testing

  9. james

    I experience fatigue, chills, headache and night sweats can it be that I have contracted HIV ?

  10. Roy Trevelion

    We are not doctors, unfortunately we cannot diagnose symptoms.

    As it says above, 20% of people have no symptoms during seroconversion. The only way to know if you are HIV positive is by taking an HIV test. More information on tests is at this link.

    It’s important that you see your doctor about the swollen lymph nodes, burning sensations and nausea.