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How long before symptoms
Jul 25, 1996

I was raped when I was fifteen years old by an African man in his twenties. I am now eighteen and terrified that I may have contracted the virus. I have had unsafe sex since and I may have passed it on. I live in Ireland and am unsure as to were I can go for a totally confidential test to see if I have Aids. Would I have shown symptoms by now? If so, what would they be?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi, Thank you for your question. The only way you'll know whether or not you were infected is to get tested. The good news is that the HIV antibody tests will accurately pick up an infection by 6 months after exposure. At that point in time, the tests are more than 99% accurate. So if you get tested now, you'll be able to know whether you became infected or not from the rape attack. But it is just as important to remember that you may have been exposed to HIV or other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's) from your other unprotected sexual encounters besides the rape. Since the rapist was from Africa, one thing to ask yourself is if he was from Eastern Africa or Western Africa (if you know this). This is important to know because in Western Africa, there is another type of HIV called HIV-2. When we talk about HIV, we're usually talking about the HIV-1 virus. In Eastern Africa, as well as the rest of the world, the HIV-1 virus is by far, the most predominant type. However in Western Africa, one can find both HIV-1 and HIV-2. The HIV-2 virus is extremely rare outside of Western Africa. Both HIV-1 and HIV-2 are transmitted the same way and both cause AIDS. The standard tests out there are designed to pick up only HIV-1. This test will not always pick up an HIV-2 infection. So if the rapist was from Western Africa, consider getting tested for both HIV-1 and HIV-2. If you need the HIV-2 test, you will have to specifically request this test as it is not routinely offered. If he was not from Western Africa, an HIV-1 test is probably all you need. As to where to go to be tested, in many places, you can go to your private doctor, or the local health ministry (health department). These tests are now widely available in most westernized countries, including many European countries. I'm not sure about how available they are in Ireland. In terms of the symptoms of HIV/AIDS: When we're talking about symptoms, it's important to remember that there are actually 2 periods of time when one may show symptoms. Within the first few weeks after infection, some people with HIV show symptoms due to "Acute Viral Syndrome". This occurs during your bodies initial response against the virus. During this time, a person may show symptoms that look exactly like the flu (headaches, body aches, fevers, fatigue etc). The symptoms last for a week or so, then go away by themselves. 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. A person may, or may not, show positive on an antibody test during this period of time. I must strongly emphasize here that the symptoms of Acute Viral Syndrome look exactly like the symptoms of other illnesses, so having flu symptoms does not indicate HIV infection, in of itself. It is also important to remember that not all people will get Acute Viral Syndrome, and in those that do get it, the severity can vary from person to person. In regard to the symptoms related to full blown AIDS itself, they don't usually begin until literally years after infection. Before that time, a person can look and feel totally healthy with no symptoms at all. As for the specific symptoms of AIDS, there are no specific symptoms you could list. AIDS is actually a group of diseases, and therefore you're dealing with groups of symptoms. Not everyone with AIDS has every disease and therefore not everyone has every symptom. Every symptom of AIDS looks like the symptoms of other illnesses. Symptoms can include severe weight loss, fevers, drenching night sweats, fatigue, severe diarrhea, and the list goes on and on. Generally the symptoms tend to last for weeks or months at a time, and do not go away by themselves (not without treatment). Symptoms do not begin until an average of 10 years after infection. You can have HIV and even full blown AIDS and have no symptoms at all! Generally speaking, if you have any symptoms that last for more than 2 weeks and do not go away, or if you have any symptoms that are very severe, always seek medical attention. You can't assume any symptom is HIV/AIDS related until you get laboratory tests.

If you have further questions, please e-mail me at "nvhotline@aol.com" or call me at 1-800-842-AIDS.



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