What is Acute HIV Infection?


Acute HIV infection is the period of time immediately following infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).   In the days immediately after infection, HIV replication is extremely rapid, and the virus copies itself over and over again, resulting in an extremely high amount of HIV in the blood (The amount of virus in your blood is called the viral load).  The virus in the blood during this time is often the highest it will ever be since the body's defenses have not had enough time to respond to the virus.  As the amount of HIV increases in the body, a large number of white cells, called CD4 cells, are destroyed.  Over time, HIV infection causes a dramatic decrease in the number of CD4 cells in the body and a weakening of the immune system.

As the immune system weakens, symptoms of acute HIV syndrome may appear.  About 6 to 8 weeks after acquiring HIV infection, the body starts to defend itself by creating antibodies.  The development of antibodies causes the amount of HIV virus to drop but the virus remains in your blood, and never completely goes away.  As the amount of virus decreases the immune system gets stronger.  The CD4 count can go back up to a near normal if not a normal level.

The period known as acute HIV infection can be referred to by different names such as primary HIV infection, acute retroviral syndrome and acute HIV syndrome.  All these names describe this brief stage immediately following HIV infection.

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