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Is it possible to have no symptoms until it is too late?
Jul 4, 2009

My husband died a year and half ago after a late diagnosis of AIDS. I've tried a few support groups for grieving but people questioned my story because he died so quickly. I know it was AIDS because it's on his death certificate. I would call his doctor and ask him for more details but I'm really haunted by everything that happened and can't really talk to him yet. The thing I guess that is odd about it is that he was riding his bike 10-15 miles a day 3 months before. Then he started to get sick, just stomach stuff at first(DEC 07.) He had just got back from Thailand so I thought it was parasite and took him to the doctor. They did a lot of tests and the nurse noticed his T-cells were low and checked for HIV. He was diagnosised Jan. 9. By the time he was diagnosed dementia had set in and he was having trouble walking. The doctor had to do DNA tests for the right medicine, he was given Atripla & Gabopentin on the 22nd. He was paralyzed two weeks later and starting to go deaf and blind. He died Feb. 10, the doctors told me he had myelopathy & CMV.

I guess my question is, has this happened before? I have so much guilt for not knowing he was sick earlier and I can't find anything like his case online. The other thing that confuses me about it is that he had thorough medical exams every year, including blood tests for his job. They weren't checking for HIV but they were testing for cancer and infections, wouldn't something have seemed abnormal?

Thank you for any light you can shed on this.

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello,

Your husband's story is all too familiar. Yes, it is indeed possible to be essentially asymptomatic until a life-threatening opportunistic infection occurs and to succumb to that infection very quickly. In fact this was extremely common early in the epidemic when we had few diagnostic tests and no effective HIV medications. The real tragedy is that it's still occurring today when we have excellent diagnostic tests and very effective therapies readily available. You should enlighten your survivors' support group. Have them read Randy Shilts's book "And the Band Played On" or view the PBS documentary "Age of AIDS." These (and many other sources) chronicle the early days of the epidemic. They clearly show "the bad old days" prior to the development of HIV tests and antiretrovirals.

As for routine medical screening for your husband's job, it's indeed possible the tests they ran would miss HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Bob



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