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Alternative Names Return to topPrimary HIV infection; HIV seroconversion syndrome; Acute retroviral syndrome
Definition Return to top
Acute HIV infection is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a virus that gradually destroys the immune system.
Causes Return to top
Primary or acute HIV infection is a condition that occurs 2 - 4 weeks after infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The virus is spread by:
After someone is infected with HIV, tests can detect antibodies to the virus in the blood. This is called HIV seroconversion (converting from HIV negative to HIV positive), and usually occurs within 3 months of exposure, but on rare occasions can occur up to a year after exposure.
Following the acute infection, there may be no further evidence of illness for the next 10 years.
Acute HIV infection can, but does not always, progress to early symptomatic HIV infection and to advanced HIV disease (AIDS).
Not all people infected with HIV will necessarily progress to AIDS, but time has shown that the vast majority do. To date there are a small number of people who have tested positive for HIV, but later no longer test positive and have no signs of disease. Although this is relatively rare, it provides evidence that the human body may be capable of removing the disease. These people are being carefully watched and studied.
HIV has spread throughout the United States and other countries. Higher numbers of people with the disease are found in large metropolitan centers, inner cities, and among certain populations with high-risk behaviors.
Symptoms Return to top
Note: At the time of diagnosis with HIV, many people have not experienced any symptoms.
Acute HIV infection can appear like infectious mononucleosis, flu, or other viral illnesses.
Any of the following symptoms can occur:
These symptoms can last from a few days to 4 weeks, and then subside.
Exams and Tests Return to top
Treatment Return to top
People with HIV infection need to be educated about the disease and its treatment so they can be active partners in making decisions with their health care provider.
There is still controversy about whether aggressive early treatment of HIV infection with HIV medications will slow the progression of disease. You should discuss this option with your health care provider.
Follow these healthy practices in the early stages of HIV infection:
Support Groups Return to top
You can often reduce the stress of illness by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems. See AIDS - support group.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
HIV is a long-term medical condition that can be treated but not yet cured. There are effective means of preventing complications and delaying (but not preventing) progression to AIDS. At the present time, not all cases of HIV have progressed to AIDS, but time has shown that the vast majority do.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have had a possible or actual exposure to AIDS or HIV infection, or if you are at risk and have had symptoms like those of acute HIV infection.
Prevention Return to top
For a comprehensive discussion, see the prevention section in AIDS.
Safer sex behaviors may reduce the risk of getting the infection. There is still a risk of getting infected with HIV, even if you practice "safe sex," because condoms can break. Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent sexual transmission of the HIV virus.