Anonymous on August 11, 2011

I have symptoms similar to the flu...could I have HIV?

I had unprotected sex a few times and have these symptoms: itchy genitals, constant itching all over my body, uncontrollable shaking and twitching, trouble sleeping and lumpy, stringy sperm. I also wake up sweating, feel sick often and don’t get hungry. My body is extra-sensitive to touch. I have been tested for STDs, including HIV/AIDS, and the tests have come back negative. I’ve also been diagnosed with depression, but the medications they gave me aren’t making these symptoms go away. Could I have HIV/AIDS?

answered by Daniel Perlman, MD, MBA on August 11, 2011

First, you’re wise to consider HIV testing as a step toward understanding your various symptoms. Your doctor is the best person to talk to about your symptoms and your STD risk, but I will do my best to answer your questions about HIV symptoms. But first let’s talk about the difference between HIV and AIDS.

HIV is not AIDS. HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system and makes it harder for the body to fight off infections. AIDS is a syndrome that occurs when the immune system has been weakened so much by HIV that it can’t fight off many infections and other diseases. While HIV causes AIDS, many HIV-positive people do not have AIDS. And because HIV treatments are designed to slow down the potential of developing AIDS, some HIV-positive people will never end up with AIDS.

As for your symptoms…low energy (or feeling constantly tired), muscle aches, weight loss and night sweats may be symptoms of HIV – but they are also common symptoms of depression. If you are on anti-depressants, but you’re not feeling better, discussing how you feel with your doctor could help. You might need a different medication or a different dose.

What about the anti-depressants you’re taking? Be aware that anti-depressants may take two to three weeks to start relieving symptoms. If you’ve only been on medication for a few days or weeks, you may not see a change just yet. It’s very important to take medications for the full term of your treatment as prescribed by your doctor. If you don’t think the anti-depressants are working, contact your doctor right away.

As for your other symptoms, itching, shaking and lumpy sperm are not common symptoms of HIV. When you talk to your doctor, make sure to ask about these symptoms.

If you’ve had unprotected sex since the last time you were tested, talk to your doctor about STD risk and about the possible need for further STD testing…possibly includingchlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B and C, herpes 1 & 2, and syphilis. Why? Because if you’re at risk for one STD, you might be at risk for others.

Getting tested can give you peace of mind, and – if you do have an STD – early detection will help prevent potential future complications from an untreated STD, and increase your overall health.

Also, be aware that not all STDs show up immediately in testing. If you’ve been exposed to HIV, you should get tested at least three weeks after exposure. If your test comes back negative, get tested again in three months to confirm your test results. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 97% of people who have HIV will develop antibodies within three months, allowing the test to accurately detect the virus.

In other words, if you were tested immediately after being exposed to HIV, your test may not have been accurate. You may want to get tested again. Also, for more information about so-called “testing windows” for common STDs, check out our Testing Windows Guide.

It’s great that you’re taking the initiative to manage your health. Along those lines, if you’re sexually active especially if you have multiple sex partners regular STD testing and safer sex practices can help reduce your risk of getting STDs from someone who’s infected.

Related info:

Daniel Perlman, MD, MBA

Dr. Perlman is a Colorado-based infectious disease specialist (including HIV and other STDs) in private practice at Greater Denver Infectious Diseases. Additionally, he is Assistant Clinical Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Dr. Perlman was educated at theUniversity of Maryland School of Medicine, and completed his residency in internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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