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Asymptomatic HIV infection

Definition

Asymptomatic HIV infection is a phase of chronic infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) during which there are no symptoms of HIV infection.

Alternative Names

HIV infection - asymptomatic

Causes

Asymptomatic HIV infection is a period of varying length in which the immune system slowly deteriorates without symptoms.

The length of this phase varies from person to person. It depends on how quickly the HIV virus is copying itself and the genetic differences that affect the way the immune system handles the virus.

Some people can go 10 years or longer without symptoms, while others may have symptoms and worsening immune function within a few years after the original infection.

Symptoms

Asymptomatic HIV infection, by definition, does not have symptoms associated with HIV, such as:

Exams and Tests

The diagnosis of HIV infection is based on standard blood tests such as the HIV antibody test (ELISA). A Western blot confirms the diagnosis.

Treatment

When a person without symptoms should receive therapy is controversial. People who are asymptomatic but who have CD4 lymphocyte counts of less than 200 should be on therapy.

Some doctors would also treat individuals with CD4 counts between 200 and 350, but the toxic side effects of the antiretroviral medications has made this less common.

Doctors must consider other factors, such as patient readiness and ability to stick to therapy, before starting antiretroviral therapy.

Support Groups

See: AIDS - support group

Outlook (Prognosis)

HIV is a chronic medical condition that can be treated, but not cured. Combinations of antiretroviral drugs have significantly delayed the progression to AIDS and decreased the incidence of AIDS-related opportunistic infections.

Possible Complications

People with asymptomatic infection can progress to symptomatic HIV infection and develop opportunistic infections associated with HIV. In addition, pregnant women with asymptomatic HIV infection can still transmit HIV to their fetus.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have HIV and you develop fevers, weight loss, swollen glands, or night sweats. You will need to be checked, and your doctor might need to consider giving you antiretroviral therapy.

Prevention

You can lower the risk of sexually transmitting the HIV infection by practicing safe sex behaviors, as well as avoiding contact with contaminated blood (not using injection drugs or not sharing needles or syringes, and proper screening of blood products).

People who are at risk for HIV infection should have regular testing to ensure early diagnosis of this infection, as many treatment options are available.


Review Date: 11/1/2007
Reviewed By: Kenneth M. Wener, M.D., Department of Infectious Diseases, Lahey Clinic, Burlington, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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