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No HIV symptoms in 5 years... should I be worried?
An_192520 posted:
The last time I had unprotected sex was in 2005. I did not have any immediate symptoms after that experience, but over the years I have had the occasional cold/flu--nothing lasting more than a few days at most. To date, I have not had any symptoms related to HIV or AIDS even despite my natural propensity to a low immune system. Since I was a child, I have always had a weak immune system.

However, it troubles me to read that scientists do not know--or refuse to say--when HIV symptoms should begin to show up. Some reports say that symptoms don't show up for up to 10 years later.

As I said, the last time I had unprotected sex--with a partner I knew for a little while--was five years ago. My question is: given all of what I've said, what are my odds of being infected even when I have displayed absolutely no symptoms?

FYI: I have gotten recently tested to clear my mind off this once and for all. Waiting for results. But some consolation will surely help.
Nieciedo responded:
I think your information is lacking.

There is no mystery as to when HIV "symptoms" show up. The confusion comes from the fact that everyone's body is different.

Let's clarify first that HIV doesn't really have "symptoms."

There are three major stages to the disease.

The first is early infection or seroconversion. This can occur between 2 and 6 weeks after infection. This is the body's reaction to the presence of the virus and is the same as its reaction to other viruses like the flu: it can include fever, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, muscle ache, maybe a rash. It lasts about 1-2 weeks and goes away.

It goes away because the immune system has been able to deploy its counterattack, HIV antibodies, which seek out and destroy the virus wherever it is found. Once antibody production is in full swing, the infected person experiences no symptoms whatsoever. The problem though is that HIV uses the immune system's own cells to reproduce, and so the body can never stop the virus from reproducing.

Eventually, the virus begins to weaken the immune system by destroying the CD4 cells faster than the body can replace them. Over time, the person's CD4 count in their blood drops. As that count drops, their ability to fight off infections decreases. When the person's immune system can no longer fight off any infections (the official benchmark is when the CD4 count is less than 200 per cu mL) the person in the third stage of the disease and is said to have AIDS.

It takes different people different lengths of time to reach that point, which I think is what you mean about not knowing when HIV symptoms appear. It all depends on the strength of the immune system, the virulence of the virus, and other factors. When a person has AIDS, there are no real symptoms: there are numerous infections that an AIDS patient can suffer but which people with healthy immune systems could fight off. In effect, no one really dies of AIDS: people with AIDS die from complications of opportunistic infections and other conditions that AIDS makes possible.

Now that we've got that cleared up, I think it's great that you decided to get tested. Testing is the only way to tell if you have HIV. Symptoms are unreliable.

If it is any consolation, the odds are always against infection. HIV is really not that easy to catch, and there is very little chance that you would have gotten infected from a one-time slipup. You don't even know for sure that the other partner was HIV to begin with.

I don't believe you have any reason to be worried, but let us know the results anyway and we'll be here to help you.

jerdavis2008 replied to Nieciedo's response:

Thanks for the reply. As I read more about HIV, I learn more about the effects--not really symptoms. Your last words give me a little bit of consolation.

As I said, I have read about the possible effects that follow an infection. To the best of my recollection, nothing that would be characterized as an infection came immediately after. And again, provided that I have always had a weak immune system since I was a child, I suspect my body's immune system would not last long enough to fight off any strong illnesses such as colds--even after five years since last exposure.

I don't want to make any conclusions until the results are in. But your words help me get through the next two weeks, which is when I am due to see the results.

Again, thanks.
David J Malebranche, MD, MPH replied to jerdavis2008's response:

Dan gave you a great response, and I agree 100%. I would say that you were wise to get tested to make sure and as part of your general health care "check ups" if you are sexually active - just a good practice to get in, and this way you won't have to worry about guessing if you may be positive or not, as you know that you get tested every year and keep up with your behaviors.

Also, if anxiety with testing is an issue, check out any of your local health departments, they give HIV testing that you can get back in 20 minutes if that would be a better option for you.

Finally, let me add and emphasize what Dan said that everyone's body is different, and everyone's immune system is different. Believe it or not, there are some people who are HIV positive that NEVER have their immune systems weakened or need medications because of their genetics. Scientists are studying these people now to see if there's something we can replicate and create as a vaccine or shot to boost whatever qualities of their cells allow them to naturally fight off HIV from destroying their immune system. Again, this is the reason why routine testing is good for everyone, because individuals do have different courses and responses to infections, HIV or other ones.

Good luck and let us know what happens!

jerdavis2008 replied to David J Malebranche, MD, MPH's response:
Glad to say the results are in and all is found negative. Did several tests with Planned Parenthood for syphillis, HIV and other STDs. All came back negative.

Thank you for the support and the information. Without it I wouldn't have made it through these two weeks.
Nieciedo replied to jerdavis2008's response:
Congratulations! I am happy to hear this!

As Gail would advise, it's time to celebrate with some chocolate :)


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