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Primary HIV infection
Primary HIV infection

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Early symptomatic HIV infection is a stage of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus when symptoms are present but AIDS has not yet developed.

See also:

Alternative Names:

AIDS-related complex - ARC; Chronic symptomatic HIV infection

Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Early symptomatic HIV infection has signs and symptoms typical of HIV infection but not full-blown AIDS. The onset of symptoms signals the transition from asymptomatic HIV infection to HIV disease.

At this early stage of HIV infection, the person does not have signs or symptoms of AIDS such as opportunistic infections, certain cancers, or a CD4 count of less than 200.

Risk factors for HIV infection are:

  • Being born to an HIV-positive mother
  • Getting a blood transfusion or blood components
  • Intravenous drug use
  • Sexual contact with an infected partner in which there is an exchange of semen or vaginal fluids


Signs and tests:

The patient may have signs of a bleeding disorder in which there aren't enough platelets in the blood (idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura ).

In females, a Pap smear may reveal precancerous cells of the cervix.

The HIV ELISA/Western blot will be positive for HIV antibodies.

The following lab tests may be done to see how the immune system is working:


Medications can successfully treat many of the symptoms of early symptomatic HIV infection.

Antiretroviral therapy slows the growth of the HIV virus in the body. A combination of several antiretroviral medications, termed Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), work very well in reducing the number of HIV particles in the bloodstream, and as a result, increasing the CD4 count.

Although people on HAART have suppressed levels of HIV, they can still spread the virus to others through sex or sharing needles. HAART is not a cure for HIV, but the treatment slows disease progression and may strengthen the immune system.

Support Groups:

For more information and resources, see AIDS support group .

Expectations (prognosis):

There is no cure for HIV infection or AIDS. However, antiretroviral therapy and HAART can dramatically improve the length and quality of life for people infected with HIV, and can delay the onset of AIDS. The treatments for conditions that occur with early symptomatic HIV disease vary in effectiveness. Some infections and disease processes are easier than others to treat with medications.


Advanced HIV disease (AIDS) can develop, in which opportunistic infections and cancers (malignancies) can occur.

Calling your health care provider:

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have symptoms of chronic symptomatic HIV infection.

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have chronic symptomatic HIV infection and develop new symptoms.


You can reduce your risk of getting the infection by practicing safer sex behaviors. However, abstinence is the only sure way to prevent sexual transmission of the virus.

Avoid using intravenous drugs. If you do use intravenous drugs, do not share needles or syringes.

People with AIDS or who have had positive antibody tests can pass the disease on to others and should not donate blood, plasma, body organs, or sperm. They should not exchange genital fluids during sexual activity.

Review Date: 11/1/2007
Reviewed By: Kenneth M. Wener, MD, Department of Infectious Diseases, Lahey Clinic, Burlington, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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