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A cautionary note about interest in the symptoms of HIV in the absence of significant risk:

A lot of people have been writing questions to me about early symptoms of HIV infection. Many of these people do not seem to have any risk for HIV, but may be having some kind of anxiety related to an encounter with a sex worker (or as in the case of question one, a strip club). Most have tested negative for HIV and are beyond the window period. They report a wide array of symptoms, some of them are very severe. I think it is also significant that many of them appear to have been reading a lot about HIV since the incident which caused them to worry. Since these people are HIV negative, it seems logical to see a connection between their anxiety and their learning about HIV symptoms. Some of these correspondents report this connection after reflecting on it. For example, they develop diarrhea the day they read about that particular symptom.

The history of psychoanalysis is full of cases of people with severe physical symptoms which appear to have no organic cause (i.e. their labs are all negative), and which persist until some psychological movement is attained. Some people (called hypochondriacs) have this illness their whole life. They become obsessed with every symptom and continually shop for a doctor who will take their illnesses seriously. The saddest part about this pattern is that, for people who invest a great deal of their identity in being sick (and, as a result, sacrifice a lot of their relationships, time, and emotional energy), it can become very difficult to accept that they are not sick.

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