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Acute Retroviral Syndrome Symptoms
Nov 7, 1996

Sorry to add yet another question about acute retroviral syndrome, but I have read some conflicting information and I am still uncertain about what it all means. I also know that this syndrome hasn't been studied that much, so that it will be hard for you to give exact answers but I just thought I'd try to get some clearer info... - I have read widely that acute retroviral syndrome is like the flu -- so can I take that to mean that it comes on suddenly like the flu does with a high fever (around 102 degrees or above)? - I know that most people don't experience all of the symptoms, but do the symptoms that they do have occur all at once or one after another? In other words, does someone suffering from acute retroviral syndrome usually get a sore throat for a few days (no fever), then a fever when the sore throat goes away, etc or do they get hit with the fever and other symptoms at the same time? - Does nasal congestion, sneezing and coughing usually go along with the other symptoms of acute retroviral syndrome? - Are the differences in acute retroviral syndrome symptoms due to different strains of the HIV virus or just the way different people respond to the same virus strain? Thank you very much. Your answers have been very enlightening and helpful to me and the others who visit this site and look for straightforward information!

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your questions and comments. When it comes to symptoms related to HIV/AIDS, there are no absolute rules as to when symptoms begin, what they look like, how long they last etc., etc. Symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. This wide variability is what leads to seemingly contradictory and confusing information. In reality, the symptoms related to HIV and AIDS can vary greatly from one person to another.

Generally, the symptoms associated with Acute Viral Syndrome tend to occur at relatively the same time, but I will not go so far as to say they "must" occur simultaneously. But they generally do occur at the same time. Some people who acquire HIV may have severe flu-like symptoms due to Acute Viral Syndrome. In other people with HIV, these symptoms may be very mild. In still other people with HIV, they may not show these symptoms at all. Respiratory symptoms are usually not associated with Acute Viral Syndrome. The most common symptoms are fever, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, and malaise. They generally occur within the first month or so after infection, and last about 1-2 weeks. These symptoms are NOT chronic and are NOT long-lasting (for many weeks or months)!

As far as we can tell, the variability in severity of Acute Viral Syndrome is more a function of how our bodies differ from one another, rather than strain differences. I have not seen any medical literature to date suggesting that the variability in severity of Acute Viral Syndrome is due to strain differences. Although I cannot rule that possibility out, I have not seen any data suggesting that to be the case. I realize the issue of symptoms is a very confusing one to many people. The rule of thumb is that symptomology is not an absolute issue. The symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS can vary tremendously. That's why we depend so strongly on laboratory tests. Absolute answers don't exist. But that's why we have laboratory testing! If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide). Rick Sowadsky MSPH CDS



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