These subtle red flags can be confused with other health issues. Here’s what to know so you can protect yourself and others.

During the first few weeks of being infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), most people — roughly two-thirds — experience a mix of flu-like symptoms that indicate their body is reacting to the virus. After being exposed to the virus, your immune system jumps into action to get control of the infection and clear it from your body.

This early phase of infection, known as acute retroviral syndrome or acute HIV infection, can be so mild that certain individuals may not even notice they’re sick. People often mistake the symptoms, such as a fever or headache, for the flu, mononucleosis or tonsillitis.

In most cases, these early signs only last a week or two. “It basically feels like a flu reaction since the initial HIV viral load is very high,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.

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