HIV Information



Welcome to the Brothers for Life page on general HIV information. You might have found this page because you are looking for information on stages and symptoms of HIV but remember the only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested! Getting tested can be a nerve-wracking experience but whether you test negative, or positive, you are still the same person. If you test positive there is treatment available which will help you live a long and healthy life with HIV. Knowing why HIV cannot yet be cured is useful for understanding why ARVs need to taken every day without skipping or stopping.

Phone the HIV helpline on 0800 012 322 for information and support

Visit to find your nearest clinic

Dial *120*662# to find your nearest clinic

Many people who have engaged in risky behaviour, like unprotected sex, often start to look for symptoms of HIV in themselves. But illnesses and infections that can be signs of HIV are also very common complaints that HIV-negative people experience too.

The only way to know if you have HIV is to have an HIV test.

A lot of people feel nervous about testing, but the reasons to test far outweigh the reasons not to test.

The main reasons why you should get tested are:

  • If you are HIV-negative, you can take steps to stay negative and protect yourself and your partner.
  • If you are HIV-positive, you can start treatment, live a long and healthy life and protect the people you love.

You cannot use your partner’s HIV status as an indication of your own HIV status.


HIV is a progressive illness, which without treatment (taking ARVs), progresses through different stages and gets worse with each stage. However, the good news is that it is never too late – or too early – to start treatment. ARVs stop HIV from killing immune system cells to make copies of itself, that means CD4 cells increase and HIV decreases. Starting treatment as soon as possible and taking treatment without skipping or stopping keeps HIV under control and means a long and healthy life.

Remember, the only way to know if you have HIV is take an HIV test. Don’t hesitate, test today and take control of your life.

Click here to read more about how ARVs work.




Acute Primary HIV Infection

This is the stage just after someone has contracted HIV.

Lasts 2 – 4 weeks

No symptoms (asymptomatic)


Flu-like symptoms which might include:

  • Fever (raised temperature)
  • Body rash
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach
  • Joint aches and pains
  • Muscle pain.

Levels of HIV are very high during this time and the risk of passing the virus on through unprotected sex is increased.

Asymptomatic HIV Infection

During this stage there are no symptoms but HIV is active and multiplying and doing damage to the immune system.

Lasts up to 10 years

Some people may experience swollen lymph nodes or glands.

Symptomatic HIV Infection

By now HIV has damaged the immune system so much that it can no longer fight off infections and diseases that a healthy immune system can easily keep at bay. The body becomes vulnerable to opportunistic infections.

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Night sweats
  • Fever
  • Recurrent respiratory infections
  • Persistent cough
  • Mouth and skin problems
  • Serious illnesses or diseases.

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

Advanced HIV with AIDS-defining symptoms.

A person with AIDS can live around 3 years without HIV treatment

  • HIV wasting syndrome
  • HIV-related cancers (Kaposi sarcoma)
  • Serious infections and illnesses such as extra-pulmonary tuberculosis (TB outside the lungs)
  • Low CD4 count
  • HIV encephalopathy (damage to the brain from HIV)
  • Different forms of pneumonia

At this stage it is still possible to start treatment and recover from AIDS.


When to go for an HIV test

You can test for HIV at any time. Even if you think that you are not at risk, regular testing is important. Many people only test when they feel sick or they are losing weight. This is incorrect. HIV can live in your body for many years before you feel sick, and the earlier you know your status the earlier you can start treatment. Starting treatment early and sticking to treatment without skipping or stopping leads to viral load suppression. This is when the amount of HIV in the body is so low that it is undetectable by a viral load test. When HIV is suppressed it is not doing harm to the immune system, which protects the body from infection and disease.

How an HIV test works

There are different types of HIV tests. The type used in Government facilities and pharmacies is a rapid test which looks for HIV antibodies in the blood. HIV antibodies are made by the body when HIV is present. However, it can take 4-6 weeks for the body to make these HIV antibodies and that means the test can’t pick up that a person has HIV even though the virus is present. This is called the window period. The window period is why you should go back and test again 4-6 weeks after the first HIV test.

There are tests which can detect HIV early on before the HIV antibodies are present. These tests look for the p24 antigen which is a part of HIV instead of HIV antibodies. These tests are called PCR HIV tests.


Phone the HIV helpline on 0800 012 322

Visit to find your nearest clinic

Dial *120*662# to find your nearest clinic


Find emotional support

For many people, receiving a positive diagnosis can be a shocking and upsetting experience. People describe feelings of despair and shame, they blame themselves for their actions and fear that their life as they know it will be over. This is internal stigma, and if these feelings are familiar to you, the best way to overcome them is to talk to someone about your feelings. No one can carry the burden of a disease on their own, and most positive people have at least one person who supports them. This could be a friend or relative, a health worker, partner or spouse, a priest or counsellor.

The HIV helpline has experienced counselors available 24 hours a day on 0800 012 322. You can find a support service on

Remember that HIV can be managed with treatment and you are still the same person, positive or negative. You are not alone.



If your HIV test result is negative, It is important that you retest in 6 weeks since you might be in the window period. The window period is the time in which you may be newly infected with HIV, but the test is still unable to pick this up.

Once your negative status is confirmed, remain negative by committing to HIV prevention.

We often meet people who have risky sexual behaviours and are negative and believe that they don’t need to worry, because they think they are immune to HIV. No one is immune to HIV. Every sexual encounter that you have can expose you to HIV if your sexual partner is HIV positive and you have sex without a condom.

The only way to prevent HIV infection is through consistent condom use. The more partners you have, the greater the risk of exposure to HIV, so it is best to have one partner. If that is not for you, Yenza kahle!


HIV is treated with drugs known as ARVs, short for antiretrovirals.

The South African government provides free HIV treatment to anyone who tests positive, no matter what their CD4 count is.

Treatment is really important for your health as it reduces the amount of HIV in your body and boosts your immune system. ARVs also suppresses your viral load. Viral load is the amount of HIV in your blood. When your viral load is high, you have more HIV in your body, and that means your immune system is not fighting HIV efficiently. The earlier you start treatment the better.

There are alternative clinics that provide ARVs in some communities Visit: or *120*662# to find your nearest alternative clinic.



There is no cure for HIV. Taking and adhering to HIV treatment (ARVs) is the only way that HIV can be controlled and people living with HIV can stay healthy. Adhering, or adherence to, HIV treatment means taking ARVs every day without skipping or stopping.

Why HIV is hard to cure

The reason HIV is hard to cure and HIV treatment needs to be taken daily is because although ARVs can successfully stop HIV making copies of itself and harming the immune system, HIV also hides in the body. Experts call this hiding place the HIV reservoir. This HIV reservoir is not affected by ARVs and is how HIV bounces back if treatment is skipped or stopped.

Working towards a cure

Many clinical trials are currently happening around the world to try and develop a cure for HIV. However, experts are not close to finding one yet. When experts talk about a cure they talk about two kinds: Functional cures; and sterilising/eradicating cures.

Functional cures: Would lower the amount of HIV in the body to tiny, undetectable amounts so that HIV cannot do harm to the body, but the virus would still be present. Some experts say that HIV treatment (ARVs) is a functional cure because it controls HIV and results in viral load suppression. But most experts say that a functional cure would be one that can control HIV without the need to take treatment every day.

Sterilising/eradicating cures: Would get rid of all the HIV in the body including any HIV hiding in HIV reservoirs.

HIV vaccine versus HIV cure

There is currently no vaccine for HIV. However, experts are working on developing two different types of vaccines:

  1. Preventative vaccines that would prevent HIV in HIV negative people
  2. Therapeutic vaccines for people living with HIV that would control viral load and delay the progression of HIV.