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A person living with HIV/AIDS can look well. The person can continue to contribute to society and work and lead a normal life.

It is not possible to know if someone has HIV/AIDS by looking at him or her.

In fact, HIV often presents no physical symptoms. A person who is infected with HIV may thus not know that he or she has been infected.

At the point of HIV infection, a person may present with symptoms within a few weeks of infection. These symptoms are similar to other common illnesses. Some of the symptoms include:
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Rash
  • Headache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
Thereafter, symptoms might not show for many years.

In Singapore, most people with HIV/AIDS only find out about their HIV status at the late stage of infection, when symptoms start showing or after the person falls extremely ill.

AIDS is the end stage HIV infection. These are some of the symptoms that may present themselves when a person develops AIDS:
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Weight loss
  • Soaking night sweats
  • Kaposi's sarcoma
  • Cervical Cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Tuberculosis
When a person is infected with HIV, his or her body's defence mechanisms will start to weaken. At the end stage of HIV infection, the individual is susceptible to "opportunistic infections". These are infections caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi that are usually incapable of penetrating healthy immune systems.

One of the most common HIV-related opportunistic infection is Tuberculosis (TB), an infection which mainly affects the lungs and causes long-term cough, fever, weight loss and night sweats. An HIV-infected person whose immune system has been weakened by opportunistic infections will eventually develop AIDS.

The only way to tell

The only way to tell if a person has HIV is through the HIV Antibody Test, which detects the presence of antibodies produced by the body in response to the HIV virus. It can take up to three months for antibodies to be developed. If a person is tested within this window period of 3 months, he or she should go for another test after the window period to confirm. Meanwhile, he or she should refrain from any sexual activities.

How to protect yourself and your partner

HIV is transmitted through body fluids such as blood, breast milk, semen, pre-ejaculatory fluids and vaginal fluids. Hence, if you think that you might be at risk of contracting HIV, because you had engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse or shared needles with an infected person, it is advisable that you get tested for HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections.

This risk is increased if you have multiple sex partners, and are unsure of your partner's HIV status. If you suspect that you or your partner might be at risk of contracting HIV, do get tested for HIV. If infected with HIV, treatment is available which can help you to continue to lead a healthy life. You can then also take action to protect yourself and your loved ones.

To avoid contracting the HIV virus:

  • ​Abstain from all and any sexual activity. This is the only sure way to prevent contracting HIV from sexual activity.
  • Be in a monogamous and faithful relationship. Having more than one sex partner increases your chances of getting HIV.
  • Use a condom correctly and consistently. Condoms are highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV. A condom should be worn once the penis is erect, as HIV can also be transmitted via pre-ejaculatory fluids. It is recommended that you use a lubricant but not oil-based ones, such as petroleum jelly or baby oil, which will cause the condom to break down; you should use only water-based lubricants such as K-Y jelly or Durex lubricants etc.
  • Refrain from sharing needles with anyone.