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. Lisa Thorley

    Hi Alain,

    What your girlfriend has isn’t anything to do with HIV. Other than testing negative, she can’t contract HIV from you. This is because once someone has an undetectable viral load they can’t transmit HIV. This has been endorsed by UNAIDS as well as the British HIV association.

  2. Alain

    I’m in my 20s and was born hiv+, i started treatment early 2011 and became undetectable 4 months later, ive remained on medications for 6 years till date and I still remain undetectable. Im in a relationship and we had unprotected sex. My girlfriend of 10 months is hiv- but has extreme anxiety, depression, polysistic ovarian syndrom, eczema and recently just had her father who passed away, which amplifies her stress and depression: Its been about 2 months since we had unprotected sex but she’s been having: headaches, migraines, stomach aches, dizziness and diarrhoea and even some minor rash with extreme period imbalance. She went for a blood test and it all came back negative, including a complete blood count (cbc) I’m extremely worried that I transmitted the virus to her and am beginning to think this U=U thing is bs. I know that the odds are negligible, but its weird why all these symptoms a few months after our only attempt of unprotected sex together: Ive had hiv- partners all my life but have never been through this with any of them: I take my meds as prescribed, Im down to just one pill a day and i never miss a day cause its how I can protect us both, by staying undetectable and healthy. My health is top top notch so I am confused.
    Please write back to me as soon as u can.
    Thank you.

  3. Lisa Thorley
  4. Ella

    My husband confused to having sex with a lady on 19th may.. And before the confusion we’ve had sex on 29th may.. Two weeks later we both have symptoms.. His are: joint pains and headaches. Mine are catarrh, mild cough and headache.. No fever from both sides.. After six weeks we both did a HIV test which came out negative.. Please is this conclusive cos this is killing our marriage and we have a daughter who has also been slightly ill. Thanks

  5. Ipalibo

    Thanks for your response dear Lisa. Well, she left for the city only today. I have asked her to report at the HIV care center at the city. I work in a rural community. We don’t have an elaborate HIV Care center here.

  6. Lisa Thorley

    Hi Ipalibo,

    Yes this is possible. Has her HIV doctor said anything?

  7. Ipalibo

    A patient received about 5 units of blood between 15th may and 1st June this year, for anaemia secondary to ?heavy menstrual flows. However, because patient was having high grade fevers, we decided to run various tests including tests for HIV & HCV on 7th May. Both tests returned antibody-positive. Is there any chance patient got HIV-infected from the transfusions that were carried out barely 3weeks to this test?

  8. Lisa Thorley
  9. Demarc

    I had protected sex ( condom was covering hafl of my condom) but penetrated inside the condom. am not sure about vaginal fluid. the person whom i had the sex is unknown status. 27 days later my joints started painbut not that much its recurring pain. I can feel it for 1 minute and it can go away the next minute. I don’t have any other symptoms but Internet searches are telling me muscle and joint pains are common symptom of ARS? is this true or not? and what’s my chance of getting infected using unbroken but half protected condom.???

  10. Lisa Thorley