What Is Acute HIV Infection

What Is Acute HIV Infection?

Acute HIV infection is a type of viral infection which occurs within 2 weeks after exposure to infected blood or body fluids such as: Blood, urine, saliva, vaginal secretions (including menstrual blood), feces, vomit and sweat.

The virus may be present in any part of the body but it usually begins to manifest itself in the mouth and throat first before spreading throughout the rest of your body.

It is not clear how long the virus remains active in the body. However, it’s known that if left untreated, it will eventually cause death.

There are different types of acute HIV infections: Type 1 – This is when someone with no prior history of HIV infection ingests blood or other bodily fluid from another person who has HIV infection. It is called “acquired” because they have never had contact with the virus before.

Type 2 – When someone with prior HIV infection ingests blood or other bodily fluid from another person who does not have HIV infection. It is called “acquired” because they have had previous contact with the virus before.

Type 3 – When someone ingests blood or other bodily fluid from a person who has both types of HIV infection. It is called “primary”. Both types of HIV infection are acquired and have never been in contact with the virus before.

How to Prevent it?

Acute HIV infection is very common among people who inject drugs. The best way to prevent it is to avoid injecting drugs altogether. If you can’t do that, make sure you only get your needles and syringes from a reliable source, never share equipment and always clean them before and after use.

If you have injected drugs and you develop constitutional symptoms (fever, muscle aches, general malaise) within 2 weeks of last injecting, you should seek testing as soon as possible at your local health department.

Seek medical treatment right away if you think you have been exposed to someone with acute HIV infection (such as unprotected vaginal or unprotected sexual contact with a person known to have acute HIV infection).

You should also seek medical treatment if you have injected drugs and you develop constitutional symptoms within 2 weeks of the last time you used.

It is not necessary to seek medical treatment for HIV infection if you don’t fit either of the two cases above, as it’s highly unlikely that you’ve got acute HIV infection.

What Are The Common Acute HIV Symptoms?

The most common acute hiv symptoms are fever, swollen lymph nodes and a general feeling of illness (called “flu-like” symptoms). A person with acute hiv infection may also experience rash, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, and diarrhea or loss of appetite.

How Is It Diagnosed?

If you think you have been exposed to someone with acute HIV infection or if you have injected drugs and are experiencing flu-like symptoms within 2 weeks of the last time you injected, testing is available. Your health department will be able to advise you on where to get tested. It is extremely rare to develop symptoms within 2 weeks of exposure, so testing after this time period is not routinely done (unless the exposure was sexual).

Acute HIV infection is diagnosed by testing for the presence of anti-HIV antibodies. People develop these within 4 weeks of infection, so they are often used to diagnose acute infection. Other blood tests are also done to look for other signs of disease. If you do not have any symptoms and your test is negative, it is very unlikely that you have acute HIV infection.


No specific treatment is available for acute hiv infection. Treatment is aimed at relieving the symptoms. This usually involves taking over-the-counter medication such as paracetamol for aches and pains and loperamide for diarrhea.

How Well Does It Respond To Antiretroviral Treatment?

Acute infection does not respond to anti-HIV treatment, because it has not had time to respond yet! It must be detected within 4 weeks of infection before treatment can have an effect. After 4 weeks of infection, the immune system has had time to mount a response and the virus is actively being attacked by white blood cells.

Can It Lead To Long-Term Infection?

Yes, but only if anti-HIV treatment is not started during this time. If treatment is started during this time, it can have an effect and prevent the virus from establishing itself in the body. This means that with treatment, the virus remains in the blood at very low levels (called being “viral load”) and the HIV infection can remain like this for many years without causing any symptoms. This is known as “clinical remission”. Without treatment, the virus multiplies unchecked and will cause disease.

Can It Lead To AIDS?

Yes, in the same way that all untreated HIV infections eventually lead to the development of AIDS. However, if treatment is started early enough then “clinical remission” can be achieved with a good chance of staying in this state for many years.

Can It Be Prevented?

Yes, people who have acute HIV infection can avoid getting AIDS by ensuring they start anti-HIV treatment soon after their diagnosis.

Sources & references used in this article:

Brief but efficient: acute HIV infection and the sexual transmission of HIV by CD Pilcher, HC Tien, JJ Eron… – Journal of infectious …, 2004 – academic.oup.com

The detection of acute HIV infection by MS Cohen, CL Gay, MP Busch… – The Journal of infectious …, 2010 – academic.oup.com

Central nervous system viral invasion and inflammation during acute HIV infection by V Valcour, T Chalermchai, N Sailasuta… – The Journal of …, 2012 – academic.oup.com

Acute HIV infection: impact on the spread of HIV and transmission of drug resistance by …, B Hirschel, L Perrin, Swiss HIV Cohort Study – Aids, 2001 – journals.lww.com

Rapid HIV RNA rebound after antiretroviral treatment interruption in persons durably suppressed in Fiebig I acute HIV infection by DJ Colby, L Trautmann, S Pinyakorn, L Leyre… – Nature medicine, 2018 – nature.com

Limited durability of viral control following treated acute HIV infection by DE Kaufmann, M Lichterfeld, M Altfeld, MM Addo… – PLoS Med, 2004 – journals.plos.org