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Mouth Ulcers and HIV Infection

Sep 4, 1997

Dear Rick, I had a negative Elisa 18 weeks after last possible exposure. I am concerned that I still may be HIV positive since I have had unusual reoccurrences of mouth ulcers in the past three or four months. Are mouth ulcers a sympton of HIV. I have seen instances where they were associated with AIDS, but nothing had been said if they are common during the 10 or so years before the onset of AIDS. Your help is appreciated.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your question. Mouth ulcers known as canker sores or aphthous ulcers, can be found in anyone, regardless of whether they are HIV positive or not. Persons with full-blown AIDS tend to get these ulcers more often, and they can be more severe, and may take longer to heal. However, there are some people who are HIV negative, have a fully functioning immune system, yet still get canker sores frequently. So, the presence of these ulcers (and how frequently they occur) does not in itself indicate HIV infection or AIDS. But generally speaking, persons with AIDS can get these mouth ulcers more often, and they can be more severe, and take longer to heal.

The cause of these ulcers in the mouth is still unknown. It has been suspected that a virus may be the cause of these ulcers, but such a virus has yet to be found. Canker sores tend to occur more frequently when there is irritation or cuts on the gums, and when the person is under a lot of physical or emotional stress. Because persons with and without HIV/AIDS can get these ulcers, their presence does not indicate HIV infection in of itself.

Most of the time, canker sores will go away by themselves without any treatment, in about a week or so. In persons with AIDS, aphthous ulcers (canker sores) may require treatment to help them heal. These ulcers are usually treated with topical steroids. The controversial drug, Thalidomide, has been found to benefit some persons with AIDS, who have severe cases of aphthous ulcers. This drug has been found to help the ulcers heal faster.

If you are having recurring mouth ulcers, or if they are becoming more severe or taking longer to heal, please see your doctor or your dentist.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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