The Four Complex Stages of HIV and Its Life Cycle

Aarohi Batra
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Kaushal

Review medical content on WOW Rx Pharmacy, so that accurate drug use information is easily accessible to everybody.
Dr. Akansha is a licensed Clinical Pharmacologist. She possesses remarkable knowledge in Pharmacovigilance, prescription analysis, drug information, and drug safety services. Additionally, she is a keen learner and an educator.

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stages of hiv

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a threat that has already claimed up to 40.4 million lives, as per the WHO.

Many people get infected with this virus each year. Still, they cannot get access to medical help due to poor knowledge about their HIV status.

It causes the progression of HIV to the late stages, causing more harm to their bodies and a life-threatening situation.

But what are the stages of HIV, and how does it attack the body’s strong immune system without being detected?

There are four stages of HIV in which the virus attacks the body’s T-cells and weakens the immune system.

Further, HIV follows seven stages of its life cycle, initiating from binding with healthy T-cells to making its infectious copies and causing harm to the host.

This comprehensive article will elaborate on the various stages of HIV and its life cycle and how ART can help people live longer.

What are the four stages of HIV infection

The four stages of HIV infection are as follows:

Seroconversion illness

Once a person contracts HIV infection, the body’s defense mechanism comes into action. It develops antibodies to fight against the infection-causing pathogen.

This production of antibodies is called seroconversion. 

Up to 80% of people experience a state of short illness after they contract HIV infection.

It is known as seroconversion illness or primary or acute HIV infection.

In some cases, this stage of HIV shows such mild symptoms that it passes without being noticed or mistaken for flu.

Asymptomatic HIV

After seroconversion is over, most people feel normal and don’t experience any symptoms.

This stage of HIV is called the asymptomatic stage and, surprisingly, can last for many years.

During this time, people may feel healthy, but the virus is active inside their body, infects body cells, and damages the immune system.

Symptomatic HIV

Once the long stage of asymptomatic HIV is over, without treatment, it worsens the conditions.

The longer you live with untreated HIV, the more the chances of developing infections and cancers.

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Late-stage HIV

AIDS is the last stage of untreated HIV.

If the condition is left untreated, HIV can cause more severe damage to the immune system. 

It may cause many opportunistic infections and cancers to harm the body and worsen the condition.

Opportunistic infections mostly occur in people with a weaker immune system than a healthy person, such as Pneumonia, Candidiasis, and Salmonella.

What are the seven stages of the HIV life cycle

hivSource: ktsimage_from_GettyImages
HIV blood sample

HIV attacks the CD4 cells (T lymphocytes), which are white blood cells that fight against the infection-causing pathogen.

The virus uses CD4 cells’ machinery to multiply and make copies of itself.

The whole process is called the HIV life cycle and can be understood in seven steps stages, as follows:


Binding is the first step of the series of seven stages of the HIV life cycle.

When HIV attacks the CD4 cells, the virus attaches or binds itself with the nucleus of the CD4 cells.


Fusion is the second step in the HIV life cycle.

After the virus attaches or binds itself, the envelope of HIV fuses with the cell membrane of CD4 cells.

The virus releases its RNA and enzymes, such as Reverse Transcriptase and Integrase, inside the cell.

Reverse transcription

The third step in the HIV life cycle series is reverse transcription.

In this stage, the virus uses its enzyme Reverse Transcriptase and converts its genetic material, RNA, into HIV DNA.

The conversion of genetic material allows HIV to enter the cells and combine with its genetic material.

The genetic material of the human body is Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA). In contrast, the genetic material of HIV is Ribose Nucleic Acid (RNA). 
To make its numerous infected copies, HIV uses the mechanism of Reverse Transcription and converts it into DNA, which makes it easier to combine with host DNA and make desired infectious copies.


The fourth step in the stages of the HIV cycle is integration.

In this stage, HIV releases an enzyme, Integrase, in the CD4 cell to insert the viral DNA into the host cell.


Replication is the fifth stage of the life cycle.

When integrated into the host CD4 cell DNA, HIV uses the host cell’s machinery to create long chains of HIV proteins.

With the progression of the virus in the host cell, the chances of getting prone to infections rise. Thus, consult a healthcare practitioner on suspecting HIV symptoms to seek medical treatment.


Assembly is the sixth stage of the HIV life cycle.

During this stage, new HIV RNA and protein in the host CD4 cell move to the cell’s surface and assemble into non-infectious HIV.


Budding is the final step among the various stages of the HIV life cycle.

In this stage, the immature (non-infectious and cannot infect CD4 cells) HIV pushes itself out of the CD4 cells.

Once outside, they release an HIV enzyme, Protease, that breaks the long chains of immature HIV and creates a mature (infectious) virus.

The connection between HIV stages and HIV treatments

Antibiotics are the primary form of treatmentSource: AlexRaths_from_Getty_Images_Pro
Prescribed medications for HIV

The prescribed medications for HIV are combined medicines called Antiretroviral Therapy (ART).

People infected with HIV have to take these treatment regimens every day.

These medications block the virus at different stages of the HIV life cycle and protect against further damage to the immune system.

HIV drugs are grouped into different classes, depending on how they fight against the virus. 

Further, each class of drugs targets a specific step in the HIV life cycle. 

The HIV treatment regimen includes medicines from at least two different drug classes. Thus, it can effectively prevent the multiplication of HIV. 

However, it is important to note that ART does not cure HIV. Rather, it helps people with HIV to live longer and prevents the transmission of HIV.

People with infection must consult a healthcare practitioner to prevent the progression of HIV and ensure a faster recovery.


There are four stages of HIV in which the virus attacks the body’s T cells and weakens the immune system.

The four stages are seroconversion, asymptomatic HIV, symptomatic HIV, and late-stage HIV, or AIDS.

Also, the whole process in which HIV attacks CD4 cells is called the seven stages of the HIV life cycle.

These stages are binding, fusion, reverse transcription, integration, replication, assembly, and finally budding.

The treatment regimen, Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), for HIV also attacks the virus at different stages of its life cycle and helps protect the immune system.

Though these medicines cannot cure HIV, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent HIV progression and prevent severe complications.

Therefore, it is necessary to consult a healthcare practitioner and seek prompt medical attention to ensure a faster recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many stages of HIV infection are present?

There are four stages of HIV infection. The first stage is seroconversion, right after getting an infection that forms antibodies. Secondly, asymptomatic HIV is where people feel fine, but the virus is active and causes harm. Thirdly, symptomatic HIV with illness. Finally, the late-stage HIV or AIDS.

What are the four stages of HIV?

The first stage of HIV is seroconversion, where the body shows symptoms and develops antibodies against the virus. Secondly, an asymptomatic HIV stage is present where the virus stays active and harms the body. In the third stage, the person gets severely ill, and finally, the late stage, called AIDS.

What are the last stages of HIV before death?

The last stages of HIV before death are symptomatic HIV and late-stage HIV or AIDS. These conditions are symptomatic, and the infected person may get severely ill, infected with various infectious conditions and cancers.

Can stage 4 AIDS be treated?

Whether you are at the first stage of HIV or the fourth, it is necessary to consult a healthcare practitioner and seek a medical report of your condition. Your doctor can prescribe the best treatment options to help you in all possible ways.

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