Some people develop flulike symptoms shortly after infection, but many have no symptoms. It may be a few months or many years before serious symptoms develop in adults; symptoms usually develop within the first two years of life in infants infected in the womb or at birth. Before serious symptoms occur, an infected person may experience fever, weight loss, diarrhea, fatigue, skin rashes, shingles (see herpes zoster), thrush, or memory problems. Infants may fail to develop normally.
The definition of AIDS has been refined as more knowledge has become available. In general it refers to that period in the infection when the CD4 count goes below 200 (from a normal count of 1,000) or when the characteristic opportunistic infections and cancers appear. The conditions associated with AIDS include malignancies such as Kaposi's sarcoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, primary lymphoma of the brain, and invasive carcinoma of the cervix. Opportunistic infections characteristic of or more virulent in AIDS include Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, herpes simplex, cytomegalovirus, and diarrheal diseases caused by cryptosporidium or isospora. In addition, hepatitis C is prevalent in intravenous drug users and hemophiliacs with AIDS, and an estimated 4 to 5 million people who have tuberculosis are coinfected with HIV, each disease hastening the progression of the other. Children may experience more serious forms of common childhood ailments such as tonsillitis and conjunctivitis. These infections conspire to cause a wide range of symptoms (coughing, diarrhea, fever and night sweats, and headaches) and may lead to extreme weight loss, blindness, hallucinations, and dementia before death occurs.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.