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The stress caused by possible HIV infection.

A lot of individuals fear being infected by HIV and take the necessary precautions such as using condoms and having them and their partners tested for the virus. There are situations, though, that are out of our control such as condoms breaking and this can cause a stressful situation. 

It's important to remember that if you have had possible HIV exposure, then you should speak to your primary care physician or present yourself to an emergency room to have bloodwork done and then start on post exposure prophylactic medication.

HIV symptoms and signs would only present themselves around 6-12 weeks after the exposure. This is because it takes so long for the virus to replicate in your immune cells (CD4) and thereafter result in an immune response by the body. 

The biggest issue here is that if you are tested with the conventional blood tests available, then you won't be able to confirm the diagnosis until antibodies have formed against the virus, which will only occur after 6-12 weeks post exposure. The only way one can determine whether there's an active HIV infection is by having a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) blood test done, which is quite expensive, as this test detects the actual virus.

The reason why one may experience flu-like symptoms within a week or two after possible HIV exposure is because one stresses and worries that they may have contracted HIV and this causes a stress response in the body. The adrenal glands start to produce adrenaline which results in cortisol being produced which, in turn, negatively affects the immune system. There may also be the possibility that you have contracted a common viral infection such as influenza or less common viral infections such as EBV (Epstein-Barr virus) or CMV (cytomegalovirus).

Symptoms and signs of HIV

An individual infected with HIV may experience the following signs and symptoms which may last up to a few weeks:

  • Fever.
  • Sore throat.
  • Muscle aches and pains.
  • Headache.
  • Generalized rash on the body.
  • Swollen lymph nodes/glands, especially in the neck.
The affected individual will also have no other symptoms such as a runny nose or cough as these would occur with conditions such as sinus related issues and throat infections.
As the virus replicates further and destroys more CD4 immune cells in the body, then there are further symptoms and signs to look out for together with the ones mentioned already. These are:
  • Fatigue.
  • Weight loss.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Generalized swollen lymph nodes, such as in the armpits (axillae) and in the groin area.
  • Oral thrush caused by a fungal infection (candida).
  • Shingles, which is a blister-like rash caused by the same virus which results in chickenpox in children (herpes zoster).
Symptoms and signs such as severe weight loss, night sweats, persistent fevers and fatigue and unexplained rashes and sores in the mouth and on the body usually occur when one's immune system has decreased to the point where one would be diagnosed as having AIDS.
If there are any concerns, then it would be best to discuss the situation with a healthcare professional so that you can be examined further and exclude HIV and any other health related problem which may be present.

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