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. Nick

    Hello doctor,

    When you say that the seroconversion happens 1-3 weeks after infection do you mean that this is the time period during which 80% of the people start to have the symptoms?

  2. Simon Collins

    Hi John, the FAQ page answers your question in detail. Please see links from question 1 at this link:
    http://i-base.info/qa/what-are-the-most-asked-questions

  3. john

    hi doctor….how accurate is 4th gen test…i did my 4th gen test all in singapore on day 20,26,37,54 and all turn up -ve. The doctor said i can be very sure i’m not infected and not necessary to come for a test after 3month(as per UK standard) . But mentally im still worried. Please advise me…so stress…

  4. Lisa Thorley

    Hi Amit,

    Please see the following about HIV and oral sex:

    http://i-base.info/guides/testing/oral-sex

  5. Amit

    I recently had protected sex with a sex worker, 2 weeks back.. but she gave me oral pleasure without a condom, i.e. Blowjob.. i just generally felt thay lets look for hiv smyptoms, though i know chances are low in oral sex, but i am not able to concentrate on anything except this.. a strange fear is overpowering me.. i looked for hiv symptoms, though i dont have any, just had ulcers in mouth 2 days back, which is also a smyptom.. am i thinking too much.. please suggest me something, cz elisa test would be possible after atleast two weeks from today.. nd i will suffer in this anxiety nd fear for two more weeks.. kindly help me..

  6. Simon Collins
  7. The small dog

    I recently had unprotected sex and i have been very suspicious of the one i slept with. I am experience nausea and vomitted after one week and a few days with sone form of slight tiredness. Would you say this is surely HIV?

  8. Simon Collins

    Hi Murthi

    This service doesn’t answer questions about testing and transmission, because the information is 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

    Also, this service is not run by doctors.

  9. Murthi

    Hi doctor,

    I had an exposure in a massage parlour on 13th Aug…

  10. 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