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Acute HIV Rash

Acute HIV Rash

The acute HIV rash usually appears during the primary infection stage. The rash can appear in a single or multiple parts of the body, and it may cause itching at times. This HealthHearty article dwells on the acute HIV rash, its appearance, and how to treat or manage the rash.
Chandramita Bora
Last Updated: Mar 14, 2018
HIV stands for the human immunodeficiency virus that causes the dreaded disease AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). The acute or primary HIV infection can be asymptomatic in some individuals, but in others, it can produce flu- or mononucleosis-like symptoms. Along with flu-like symptoms, some affected individuals can develop a skin rash, which is known as acute HIV rash.

The symptoms of a primary HIV infection usually appear within 2 to 3 weeks from the time of contracting the virus. But these symptoms disappear within a few weeks, and afterwards, no signs or symptoms become evident for a long time. The initial HIV infection usually takes several years to develop into AIDS.

When Does the Acute HIV Rash Appear?
As mentioned already, the acute HIV rash develops in the acute or primary infection stage, where the human immunodeficiency virus replicates rapidly after entering the body. This stage is also known as 'seroconversion syndrome', where the immune system starts developing antibodies against the infectious agent in response to an infection or immunization.

In this stage, the number of HIV cells in blood increases rapidly, while the number of CD4+ T helper cells declines considerably. CD4+ T helper cells are white blood cells, which fight infectious agents. The human immunodeficiency virus attaches itself to the CD4+ cell, injects its RNA into the cell, and then replicates by using the division mechanism of the host CD4+ cell. But soon, the immune system responds by producing more CD4+ cells and antibodies against the virus. The acute HIV rash usually develops during this stage.

Some individuals who do not experience any signs or symptoms during the primary infection stage, can develop skin rashes later, especially during the third stage of the infection. Such HIV rashes are usually caused by dermatitis. Sometimes, a reaction to HIV drugs can produce rashes. Conditions like herpes simplex, herpes zoster infections, and molluscum contagiosum can also cause rashes in HIV-infected individuals. If an HIV-infected individual suffers from herpes, he or she can develop reddish and fluid-filled blisters or rashes. Use of certain medications like co-trimoxazole can also cause the development of skin lesions in HIV-infected individuals that can look very similar to the acute HIV rash.

What Does It Look Like?
The acute HIV rash is usually described as a maculopapular rash. Typically, the rash is flat with small reddish bumps and a rough texture. Though the rash can appear in any part of the body, it is more commonly observed in the face, neck, shoulder, chest, and the palms of the hands. Occasionally, it can appear in the foot, genital area, and the anus as well.

The rash caused by the acute HIV infection is generally reddish or brown in color. To be more specific, it looks reddish in light skin, but dark purple or dark brown in dark skin. The rash can look somewhat similar to the eczema rash, and it usually lasts for about 2 weeks.

Accompanied Symptoms
The HIV rash can be tender and sore, and it may cause itching at times. The rashes usually appear in clusters, and they have been observed to be accompanied by a few other symptoms, which are considered the early symptoms of an HIV infection. These symptoms are:

Fever and headaches
Swollen lymph glands
Muscle aches
A sore throat
Loss of appetite
Mouth ulcers
Oral thrush
Unexplained weight loss.

However, it is important to keep in mind that the skin rash does not appear in all HIV-positive individuals going through the stage of primary infection. The other early symptoms of the infection may also be absent in some HIV-positive individuals.

Treatment and Management of the Rash
The acute HIV rash and the discomforts produced by it can be managed to some extent with the help of over-the-counter medications like benadryl. Hydrocortisone can also help shrink the rashes, and reduce itching, if it is present at all. However, be sure to take any kind of medications, especially antihistamines only after consulting a health care provider.

To prevent the rashes from worsening, avoid taking hot showers or baths, and refrain from using soaps laden with chemicals and fragrances. Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes. Instead, wear soft and light cotton clothes. Use a good quality moisturizer to soothe the skin, and limit your sun exposure as much as possible, as heat and sunlight can aggravate the rashes.

The HIV rash can play an important role in diagnosing the infection in the early stage, and thus, prevent its transmission. The rash appears during the 'seroconversion stage', when an individual can test positive for HIV. During this stage, the immune system starts producing antibodies against the virus, which can help detect the infection. However, a skin rash can be caused by many other health conditions as well. So, developing a skin rash does not mean that a person is HIV-positive. But if you think that you are at an increased risk of contracting the virus, then consider to get yourself tested for HIV.

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be considered as a substitute for professional medical advice.