The acute HIV infection, also known as acute 'seroconversion syndrome', is the first stage of an HIV infection. In this stage, the HIV or human immunodeficiency virus replicates rapidly. The acute or primary infection usually occurs about 2 to 4 weeks following the exposure to the virus. A large number of individuals infected with the human immunodeficiency virus develop some flu-like symptoms during the stage of primary infection. Such symptoms usually disappear within a few weeks.
But for many people, there may not be any sign or symptom of a primary infection. After the initial infection, no symptom or illness can be observed in the affected individual for many years. This stage is known as asymptomatic HIV infection. Occasionally, the acute HIV infection can gradually progress to early symptomatic HIV infection, and then to AIDS or advanced HIV infection.
Causes of Acute HIV Infection
AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease like syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. The acute HIV infection that develops after the initial exposure to the human immunodeficiency virus is not similar to AIDS. It may take several years for the initial infection to cause AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. The acute HIV infection is caused by a rapid proliferation or replication of the virus. Upon entering the body, the virus attaches itself to the CD4+
or T4 cells (a type of white blood cells). These white blood cells are responsible for fighting infectious agents.
The virus first attaches to a CD4+
cells and injects it's RNA into the cell. In this way, it takes over the CD4+
cell, and then replicates using the division mechanism of the host cell. The new HIV cells continue the process of replication. As a result, the number of CD4+
cells decline, while the number of the virus increases in the body. The symptoms of the acute infection appear during this period. However, this condition does not last long, as the immune system responds after a while, and increases the number of CD4+
cells vigorously. These CD4+
cells remove much of the virus from the blood. The battle between HIV and CD4+
cells continue, which can last for many years till the number of the virus in the body increases to such an extent that the immune system starts losing the battle.
Acute HIV Signs
A number of symptoms can be observed during an acute HIV infection. These symptoms usually appear within 2 to 4 weeks from the time of contracting the virus. The symptoms usually resemble the symptoms of flu or mononucleosis. The most common symptoms of this infection are:
- Fever and headaches
- Swollen glands or lymph nodes
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Oral thrush
- A sore throat
- Unusual skin rash
- Mouth ulcers
Apart from acute HIV, many of these symptoms can be produced by several other health conditions as well. So, it is not possible to diagnose the infection only on the basis of symptoms. A skin rash can be observed in HIV-infected individuals, which is usually different from the skin rash caused by an allergic reaction. The HIV rash can be a bit similar to the rash caused by psoriasis. It is usually reddish or brownish in color, and it can develop in any part of the body, including the genital area and the anus. The early HIV symptoms usually subside within 3 to 14 days.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The early HIV symptoms may not be exhibited by all HIV-infected individuals. An HIV infection can be identified only with the help of proper diagnostic procedures. However, the HIV antibody test may come negative during the primary infection stage, as the immune system usually requires about two months to produce the antibodies against the virus. But the HIV RNA test or 'viral load' test shows a positive result during the stage of acute infection.
Whether the infection should be treated immediately with antiretroviral medications, or one should wait until the immune system exhibits the signs of damage, is still controversial. Therefore, an infected individual should talk to his or her physician, and evaluate the pros and cons of early treatment.
The early diagnosis of an HIV infection is important to prevent the spread of the virus. However, it is not so easy to detect the infection, as the symptoms are not very specific and they resemble the symptoms of many other health conditions. So, people who think that they are at an increased risk of contracting the virus can get tested. This would help detect the condition, and prevent the transmission of the virus to healthy individuals.
: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.