Dear Ask The Doctor: Hi I'm a 24-year-old female with recent exposure to HIV. I had a brief, flu-like illness 3 weeks ago that lasted for 4 days, with swollen glands in the throat, fatigue, fever, etc. I recently noticed (about 2 weeks ago) that I have a lump under my right armpit that you can't see but can only touch. I am still having a lot of fatigue, a dry-hacking cough, and no appetite. I just need some help to what is possibly going on.
Dear Nicole: Usually, the initial symptoms of HIV infection can be very unspecific as: fever, fatigue, night sweats, rash, swollen nodes, sore throat, headache, oral ulcers. The following factors are associated with an increased risk of acquiring HIV infection: Unprotected sex, receptive anal intercourse carries a particularly high risk, injection drug use (sharing needles or drug paraphernalia), occupational needle stick or body fluid splash (estimated transmission rate <0.3%), contaminated blood products (before 1985 in the United States). Many people do not show symptoms after they first get infected with HIV. Others have a flu-like illness within several days to weeks after exposure to the virus. They complain of: fever, headache, tiredness, and swollen nodes in the neck. These symptoms usually disappear within a few weeks. After that, the person feels normal and has no symptoms. The development of the disease is different among individuals. This state may last from a few months to more than 10 years. Even though the person has no symptoms, he or she is contagious and can pass HIV to others. HIV infection is commonly diagnosed by blood tests that detect antibodies the immune system produces in an attempt to fight the virus. Testing for HIV is a two-step process: first, an inexpensive screening test (blood) or oral (saliva) is done. If that test is positive, a second test (Western blot) is done to confirm the result. In case of doubt, worry or if you are unsure, the answer is always the same: get tested.