According to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1.2 million people had HIV at the end of the year. Around 14% of these people weren’t actually aware that they were HIV positive - putting them at risk of not receiving the correct treatment and potentially progressing through the three different stages of the disease.

Despite being widely known, the myths and stigmas that surround HIV can result in the virus being widely misunderstood. Amongst these misunderstandings are how HIV progresses, the stages of HIV, and ultimately - how, and when, HIV develops into AIDS.

One of the most important steps that can be taken in stopping the progression of the virus, and reducing the risk of further transmission is early detection and HIV treatment. If someone is living with HIV infection and does not realize, or has tested positive and doesn’t receive treatment, the virus can progress through three stages:

  • Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection
  • Stage 2: Chronic HIV Infection
  • Stage 3: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

See also: What is HIV? An Interview With Trinity K Bonet

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What are the three stages of HIV?

HIV treatment can help in controlling the progression and spread of the virus - the most common of these treatments being antiretroviral therapy (ART).

However, if someone experiences an asymptomatic HIV infection and does not regularly check in on their sexual health or decides not to receive the correct treatment, the virus can begin to progress into different stages and can continue to be transmitted to others. In fact, it’s estimated that around 40% of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who aren’t aware that they have the virus [1].

Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection

In the first stage of HIV, people tend to have a large amount of HIV in their blood - this makes the virus extremely contagious [2]. While some people may experience symptoms such as fever, chills, or night sweats, others may experience no symptoms whatsoever.

See also: What is the Treatment for HIV?

Stage 2: Chronic HIV Infection

In stage 2 of HIV, the virus is still present and growing, but at a slower rate than in stage 1. It’s common for people to experience no symptoms in this stage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stage 2 can last almost 10 years without receiving the appropriate HIV treatment, although, for some, it may progress quicker [3].

See also: HIV and Pneumonia: What’s the Connection?

Stage 3: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

This stage is widely known to be the most serious of the three. The immune system of those with AIDs becomes completely weakened, and they become at risk of experiencing a number of illnesses referred to as opportunistic infections - although these aren’t as common now with the advancement in medical treatments surrounding HIV and AIDs [4].

See also: HIV and Aids: Myths and Facts

Are HIV and AIDS the same thing?

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. In the United States, at present, it’s not as common for people with HIV to develop AIDS because of the developments seen in HIV treatment: ART.

Early treatment and detection are crucial when it comes to stopping the progress of HIV. This means that knowing the early signs and symptoms of HIV as well as regularly checking your sexual health is key to knowing your HIV status.

If the HIV infection is not detected and progresses into stage 3 (AIDS), the body’s immune system will begin to deteriorate and the individual will be at risk of experiencing severe illnesses. Although there is no specific test used to diagnose AIDS, a doctor is likely to take into account the individual’s symptoms as well as the viral load and CD4 count [5].

How long does it take HIV to turn into AIDS?

If a person with HIV goes undiagnosed and without treatment, it’s possible for the virus to continue to develop into the next stages. According to Mayo Clinic, it can take around 8-10 years for HIV to develop into AIDS without the appropriate treatment [6].

It is now not as common for HIV to progress into AIDS with early diagnosis and prompt testing to thank for allowing people with HIV to live long and happy lives.

Which is worse HIV or AIDS?

AIDS is the last and most advanced stage of HIV. A person is considered to have progressed into AIDS when the following occurs:

  • CD4 cell count drops below 200
  • Develop one or more opportunistic infections

AIDS is characterized by the occurrence of severe illnesses, referred to as opportunistic infections. These infections tend to occur more often in those with AIDS and affect people with weakened immune systems more severely than people with healthy immune systems. Some of the most common opportunistic infections include:

  • Herpes simplex virus (HSV-1)
  • Salmonella
  • Thrush (Candidiasis)
  • Toxoplasmosis

If you are experiencing symptoms of early-stage HIV and believe you may have been exposed to the virus, it’s important to find out more. This can be done by taking a test with your doctor or from home with an at-home lab test.

LetsGetChecked’s at-home HIV Test involves a simple finger prick sample with online results available within 2-5 days. Our dedicated medical team will be available throughout the process to offer a helping hand should you need it.

You consider taking a test if:

  • You should also consider getting tested if:
  • You become sexually active
  • You have had unprotected sex
  • You are experiencing symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection
  • You are entering into a new sexual relationship
  • You have received a notification from a previous partner that they are infected (STIs can remain dormant for years and/ or take up to three weeks to become detectable.)

See also: How do you Check for HIV From Home?

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Buy an At-Home Sexual Health Test

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV Basics. Online:
  2. Symptoms of HIV. Online:, 2020
  3. Symptoms of HIV. Online:, 2020
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is HIV? Online:, 2020
  5. The Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic. Online:
  6. Mayo Clinic. HIV/AIDS. Online: