Acute HIV infection is the earliest and shortest stage of HIV infection. Not everyone gets symptoms, but most people come down with a flu-like illness three to six weeks after infection. The symptoms are the same as flu or mononucleosis: fever and fatigue lasting for a week or two. There may or may not be other symptoms:
A blotchy red rash, usually on the upper torso, that does not itch
Swollen lymph glands
IMPORTANT: If you have been at risk of getting HIV and then come down with these flu-like symptoms, tell a doctor right away. Sensitive new tests can tell whether you have acute HIV infection.
Treatment during the acute stage of HIV infection works much, much better than later treatment. Be sure to tell your doctor about your HIV risk. If you don’t, you may not get the right tests. Standard HIV tests - either home tests or lab tests - won’t detect acute HIV infection.
Anti-HIV drugs let many people with HIV infection live healthy lives. Combinations of these powerful medicines work very well, but they often have serious side effects, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. And people with HIV have to keep taking these drugs every day for the rest of their lives. Ask anyone who’s taking these "drug cocktails" - it’s best to avoid getting HIV in the first place.
AIDS is a worldwide epidemic. Most cases are in Africa, but the disease is spreading most rapidly in Eastern Europe and Asia. Even if a cure were found tomorrow, AIDS will be the most deadly disease ever to plague mankind.
What Causes It?
HIV - human immunodeficiency virus - causes AIDS. HIV infection is for life. There is no cure, but anti-HIV drugs keep HIV in check. Unfortunately, 95% of the world’s HIV infected people cannot afford this medicine.
There are a few people who say HIV does not cause AIDS. Some are scientists, but none of them are AIDS experts. They offer only false hope and no answers. Overwhelming medical and scientific evidence shows that HIV is the AIDS virus. Every major health organization in the world says that HIV is a killer.
There are two main types of HIV - HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-2 is rare outside Africa.
You can’t catch HIV unless another person’s body fluids - blood, semen, or vaginal secretions - enter your bloodstream. This can happen through the tip of the penis, through the vagina, through the rectum, or through an open wound.
HIV is spread:
By having sex without a condom. Vaginal and anal sex carry a high risk. The risk of getting HIV from oral sex is low.
By sharing needles and/or syringes to inject drugs or steroids.
From a mother to her infant during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding.
By getting a tattoo or piercing from a dirty needle.
You can’t get HIV from a toilet seat or from touching an infected person. You can’t get HIV from being sneezed or coughed or spit on by an infected person. You can’t get HIV from kissing (although there is a theoretical risk from very deep "French" kissing). You can’t get HIV from a mosquito, flea, or tick bite.
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.