Acute HIV infection is also known as primary HIV infection or acute retroviral syndrome. This condition occurs within the first two to four weeks after someone is infected with the human immunodeficiency virus. It is the primary stage of infection and lasts until the body has created antibodies against HIV. During this stage of infection, the virus is duplicating at a rapid rate.
Acute HIV is highly contagious. However, most people with acute HIV do not yet know they are infected. Most of the population is not tested for HIV on a regular basis. Standard HIV antibody tests may also not be able to detect this stage of infection.
Acute HIV infection occurs within two to four weeks after infection with HIV. HIV is spread by the following:
- contaminated blood transfusions
- contact with contaminated blood or fluids
- contaminated syringes or needles
- sexual contact
- passing of the virus from mother to fetus during pregnancy
HIV is not spread through casual contact.
Acute HIV infection does not always develop into symptomatic HIV infection or AIDS. In some people, HIV infection may remain quiet for years or decades. Others may never develop advanced HIV disease or AIDS.
It is important to know that HIV can affect people of any age, race or sexual orientation. However, certain groups may be at higher risk for HIV. These include:
- intravenous drug users
- men who have sex with men
- African Americans
Many people with acute HIV have no symptoms. If you do have acute HIV symptoms, they may last for a few days or up to four weeks.
Most people with acute HIV symptoms do not know they are caused by HIV. This is because acute HIV symptoms are similar to those of the flu and other viral illnesses. They may include:
- decreased appetite
- sore throat
- night sweats
- ulcers present in mouth, esophagus, or genitals
- swollen lymph nodes
- muscle aches
The Centers for Disease for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 20 percent of people living with HIV have no idea they are infected. The only way to know if you have HIV is to be tested.
If acute HIV infection is suspected, your doctor will perform a series of tests to look for the virus.
A standard HIV screening test will not necessarily detect acute HIV. Many HIV screening tests look for antibodies to HIV rather than the virus itself. It can take several months after infection for those antibodies to appear.
Some tests that may be able to detect signs of an acute HIV infection include:
- HIV RNA viral load
- p24 antigen blood test
- CD4 count
- blood differential
- HIV ELISA and Western blot tests may or may not be able to detect acute HIV
Proper treatment is crucial for individuals who are infected with HIV. If you have been diagnosed with HIV, it is important to learn as much as you can about the virus.
Doctors and scientists continue to debate whether early, aggressive treatment should be used for all people with HIV. Early treatment may minimize the effects of the virus on your system. However, HIV medications can have serious side effects when used for long-term treatment. It is important to discuss with your doctor what options may be right for you.
In addition to medical treatment, your doctor might also recommend the following healthy
- eat healthier food to help strengthen your immune system
- practice safe sex to avoid passing the virus to others and reduce your risk of STDs
- avoid stress, which can also weaken your immune system
- avoid exposure to individuals with infectious illnesses, since you may have a harder time fighting off disease
- exercise regularly
- avoid situations that may cause depression
- stay active and maintain your hobbies
Over time, HIV can suppress your immune system. This can leave you more susceptible to infection, cancer, and other illnesses.
In some people, HIV infection will eventually lead to AIDS. This risk may be reduced with appropriate treatment.
HIV is a chronic, life-long condition. It can be treated, but there is not yet a cure.
With proper treatment, people with HIV can live long, full lives.
HIV can be prevented by avoiding exposure to potentially infectious fluids. These include blood, semen, and breast milk. You can also reduce your HIV risk by making healthier choices.
- Always practice safer sex, unless both you and your partner have tested HIV negative for at least six months.
- Avoid intravenous drugs. If you can’t stop using, you can also make your drug use safer by never sharing or reusing needles. Many cities have needle exchange programs. These allow drug users to stay safer while fighting their addiction.
- Practice universal precautions. Always assume that blood might be infectious. Protect yourself by using latex gloves and other barriers.
If you have HIV, you will not be able to donate blood, sperm, or organs. This is to help prevent the spread of HIV to others. However, HIV can not be spread through casual contact. It should not affect the way you go about the activities of daily life.