Apr 09, 2010
Many of the questions we answer on this Forum and also the Freedomhealth Sexual Health Forum relate to anxiety about HIV and also possible early HIV symptoms.
One of the main problems in relying on HIV symtoms themselves is that they are notoriously vague and almost all the symptoms may in fact be symptoms of a different disease. The best method always of diagnosing HIV is to have a modern HIV test. Diagnosis may be difficult and uncomfortable but in Western Industrialised countires knowing your HIV status - positive or negative is ALWAYS a good thing. Knowing you are HIV positive and engaging in medical care will preserve your life to a normal lifespan.
It sounds obvious, but in order to acquire HIV there has to be a significant exposure. A significant sexual exposure means unprotected vaginal and or anal (or both) penetrative sex with a person who already has HIV infection.
Dr Martin Fisher of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals in the UK has looked specifically at HIV sero-conversion illness and has found that it occurs much more commonly than is currently thought.
We knew already that early HIV disease provides a short interval at an early stage in the illness to identify new infections. By identifying new HIV infections early we can do two important things.
Firstly we can dramatically alter the health of the person we have just diagnosed. This is because we are in an informed position where we can prevent that person entering a long period of several years chronic undiagnosed infection which ultimately ends in a crisis catastrophic illness where the diagnosis is made. This long period of slowly deteriorating health can be halted by just knowing a persons HIV status. The crisis point where a previously undiagnosed HIV positive patient becomes critically ill will frequently end their life.
Secondly, we can dramatically alter the onward transfer rate of HIV to other people. Dr Fisher, in his contribution to the UK's National Aids Trust Policy Report "Primary HIV Infection", cites some research published by Marks in the Journal of AIDS 2005 where a 50% reduction in risky behaviour was seen in people who were aware of their HIV diagnosis. There was an even greater reduction in risky behaviour when the HIV positive person was aware that their sexual partner was HIV negative.
The possibilities presented by the second of these points are enormous in terms of reducing spread. Imagine if we could successfully reduce transfer rates by greater than 50% without doing anything special ? We can. We just need more people to be aware of their status.
So what are typical HIV Symptoms?
Dr Fishers team looked at 108 people with HIV and found that 70 per cent of them had three classic symptoms - the HIV "Triad". These are:-
Severe sore throat
A body rash
These three classic symptoms and signs in an adult should suggest a possible HIV infection and should generate a suggestion that that person should have an HIV test.
There are many other symptoms and signs such as severe muscle aches, headaches, night sweats, lymph node enlargement, and joint pains.
All of these are valid but the key three features are as given above - 1) very high temperature 2) very sore throat 3) body rash. These three classical symptoms should point to the need for an HIV test, preferably one or a mix of a 4th generation HIV DUO test and/or an HIV PCR test. Both of these will allow us to make an early diagnosis with the option then of stopping a severe seroconversion illness early and preventing early immune damage and also allowing the newly infected HIV positive patient to limit the accidental further spread of HIV.