I am 28. White. A Female. And a former Peace Corps Volunteer. I am HIV Positive. This is my story of how a few months, a few people, and a few events in Zambia changed me and my life forever. This is the story of how I contracted HIV and brought my Peace Corps Journey to a crashing halt... and how I am working now to pick up and put back together the pieces of my life as a newly diagnosed person living with HIV. This was not the journey I had originally planned... my path has traumatically and dramatically changed... but it is the one I am on now. There is no going back. There is only forward. I welcome you to follow along with me as I attempt to explore this new life ahead of me, whether you are someone from the Peace Corps community, or someone living with HIV. I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions, and opinions. Let us go forward together. To start from the beginning, click here He Gave Me More Than A Bracelet.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Note About Acute HIV Infection

Acute HIV Infection is a very important, yet little known and heard about, part of HIV and the tragedy of HIV transmission.

Acute Infection describes the stage of HIV which usually occurs between 2-4 weeks after the contraction event, although it sometimes may take longer. During this stage, the body has yet to recognize and start fighting the virus, therefore allowing the virus to rapidly increase and attack the body. The result is certain flu like symptoms, including headache, fever, loss of appetite, rash, diarrhea, vomiting, etc. However, in most cases, just as symptoms begin to appear, the body finally recognizes the virus, develops antibodies against it, and naturally starts fighting it. Therefore, most people who experience symptoms of Acute HIV Infection think they have the flu. They might feel down for a few days, and then the symptoms resolve on their own, and the person moves on with their life--- never knowing or finding out that they have just contracted HIV. Furthermore, many doctors are not trained or prepared to recognize symptoms of Acute Infection, or they simply mistakenly believe that the patient just has the “flu”, without ever considering doing an HIV test. Finally, if a rapid HIV test is for some reason done during this period, it may come back Negative, as the test is testing for antibodies which the body has not yet produced! Long story short, it is very uncommon for HIV to be found and diagnosed during the Acute Infection phase.

Now, what makes this worse is the effect of this phenomenon on transmission. You see, when a person is in the Acute phase or newly contracted, their body has not had a chance to fight the disease, and their viral load is likely to be very high. The higher a persons’ viral load, the more infectious they are, and the easier it is for them to transmit the virus to others. So, pair a high viral load with a person that has no idea that they’ve contracted the virus, and you have a very dangerous thing. Reports estimate that as many as 50% of HIV transmissions occur during the acute and early stage of the illness.

Now, to connect this with my story- I went through an extremely severe case of Acute HIV Infection. I experienced almost every symptom on the list, but to a higher degree than most. My symptoms began exactly 17 days after contraction, which falls in that average 2-4 week period. My first two HIV tests came back Negative also, because my body had not yet developed the antibodies. In addition to these typical symptoms, my platelet levels were extremely low, and my liver functioning was extremely high (this means bad). This is why I was hospitalized and this is why they found it. My first results showed my CD4 (immune system) was very low, and my viral load was over 10 million (the maximum measurement range). Although it was a horrible experience to be so severely ill, it is a good thing that I was, otherwise we may have never found it, and I could still be in Zambia, and possibly passing it along to others.

Another part of the puzzle…

I had asked the guy before being with him if he had been tested for HIV. He said he had been tested earlier in the year and it was Negative. He neglected to mention, and I neglected to find out, that he had slept with someone after that Negative test (which therefore really makes me asking him at all pointless and void).

I further questioned him about this while I was in South Africa (after being diagnosed), and I also explained the Acute Infection to him. And it all of the sudden clicked and he said, “Oh my gosh. I did get sick with the flu or Malaria a couple weeks after being with that girl”. I said, “BINGO”, and we knew that that had been it.

So, we are a perfect example. He had been recently infected, may have experienced symptoms, but mistook them for Malaria, and never suspected HIV. His viral load was most likely still very high when he met and passed it on to me. The doctors agree that this is most likely the case, as they feel that his viral load must have been extremely high to infect me through the low risk activities that we participated in.

In an e-mail from October, I wrote to a Peace Corps HIV Educator… “One last thing that I think you could talk about more is Acute HIV Infection- including the timing (1-4 wks after infection), and the common symptoms. This is something I feel like I never knew about. I didn't know before that people commonly fall sick with flu like symptoms about 2 weeks after infection. And most people don't know this, and they ignore it, thinking they have the flu, and then they don't ever consider or find the HIV. We are told to look at sexual partners and consider whether they "seem sick" or if they have any sores or cuts on their genitalia. But, I think a better suggestion would be to ask our partners if they have had any flu or malaria-like illnesses recently (or if you want to get real specific- shortly after being with their last partner). If I had known this information and asked my partner about it, he would have told me that yes, actually he did have malaria like symptoms a couple weeks after being with his previous girl (5 months ago). And I could have known to be suspicious right there with that information.”

I am not saying that everyone should freak out if they get the flu, however I do think that this part of HIV needs to be talked about more, so that people are familiar with the pattern of the disease progression, and may be more likely to recognize the symptoms. As always, thanks for listening!

P.S. I will continue the Medevac story tomorrow...


  1. I am currently serving as a pcv in ghana and have been doing a number of HIV information and testing events. So far I have had six people learn that they were HIV positive through our testings and it is a difficult thing to go through. In two months I will be organizing another large HIV educational event with several thousand students and I will spend some time talking about your story and acute infection. Thank you very much for sharing everything. It takes bravery to openly share your status. Your story is powerful and I would like to let you know how meaningful it would be for people to hear it in person. If you ever feel like you could speak about it publicly it would do amazing things to spread awareness and fight the spread of HIV.
    Also please forgive this question if it is too prying, but one of the things that I tell my students when teaching them to use condoms is that if they accidentally put the condom on the wrong way (so that it doesn't role down) that they should throw it away instead of flipping it over and putting it on the other way. Did you ask your partner if he might have done this? Also, one last thank you for being brave and sharing...it helps. I am on my computer in africa right now learning more things about HIV. Please keep your chin up and stay strong. You don't know when they might find a way to cure this. A hug to you from Ghana. Nathan

    1. Nathan, I don't think that happened. However, I think it is a valid concern to consider, and it is important to teach that even pre-cum does carry the virus, so any contact with/passing of pre-cum can also be a risk. Thanks for your question :-)

  2. Hello,

    Apologies if this is too forward of a question or anything. I am asking this for myself and students that I am teaching the future. I understand that you did not use protection during oral sex with the man in question. My question is were fluids were swallowed during the oral sex? Sorry if this is too forward but I think it is an important question to raise for education reasons.

    Jay R. L.

    1. Jay, yes fluids were swallowed during oral sex. However, as far as I know, it is not really important whether the fluids were swallowed or not. It is more important that the fluids were in my mouth to begin with (and even though I didn't know it, there must have been some kind of small cut in my mouth somewhere- this could even happen from too rough of teeth brushing or flossing). It is likely that the outcome would have been the same even if I had "spit" instead of swallowed. Although, I have also heard yje possibility that if you have some kind of infection further down in your throat, it may make it easier/possible for transmission during swallowing. I'm not sure what exactly is true or not though as far as that goes.

  3. Hi,
    you mentoned that yur activity was a low risk activity. may i ask you what was that as i think you are talking about oral sex or that was other kind of activity.
    th efact is i had unprotected oral sex and after that i had fever and stuffy and runny nose for 4 days it took 4 days and fater that it faded away. is th erunny nose and stuffy nose part of the symptoms taht you exprienced or not. thank you so much and sorry for the bad writting since this is not my first language

  4. What are you doing have unprotected sex in Zambia or South Africa? That's insane.

  5. I agree on a few things, Un-protected sex in Africa on the word of a guy who says i'm clean.

    Neither the less it can happen anywhere any time with the most un-suspected person in the world...you just cant tell i guess? but i'm sure the odds are much higher if you have sex in Africa or with a person who injects drugs or with a partner who wants to stick it in your ass, heterosexual or not(excuse my french but lets keep it real). I say lets keep it real because of facts, statistics, numbers, math's. Allot of us are blind sided by Far left wing education programs in school or Uni, these are extremely detrimental to society as they breed insanity in the face of trying to be equal and politically correct. We are not all the same, Homosexuality is very high risk, The black community is very high risk, Drug users that Inject drugs are very high risk...Heterosexual people fall in between the lines of fate(in the math's it seems). Some people claim that the infection stat's are fake, prejudice some-how..? obviously its complete Nonsense that the Authorities would project false fact in such a serious epidemic such as HIV/AIDS. 99.9% of it does boil down to just you and your judgment at the time of contraction. 2000/1 chance of regular sex...BS! there are other stipulations to take into account. the viral load of the infected person your about to sleep with, as you found your self, and you just gave him a blowjob!.

    I think ive just contracted the Virus from hetro sexual sex from a drug user who injects drugs, i didn't know this at the time, what you going to do? I was drunk wanting sex and i fancied the Girl, i went to the hotel knowing i was going to have un-protected sex. At 39 years old with no children, none of my family reside in the country where i live, its just me, i smoke, drink heavy, don't really like much of the world today, wouldn't want to bring kids into it...so i mean, as long as i don't go round infecting others, i think i can deal with it. About 1 week after i had sex i started to get a mild flu, aches and pains, buzzing in my head, no sickness but my shit is very runny every time i go, i seem to farting allot. LOLZ sorry, one has to keep there chin up. sweating on my pillow and chest, a wet sweat to where the pillow is wet. i don't have swollen glands or any skin conditions, just a bit of a runny nose and a mild weakness like flu. its been that way for 2 weeks now so i think she got me. I guess i'm going to have to wait until a few months before i can get a proper test done, i'm sure there is nothing glamorous about dyeing from HIV infection and i hear that some people are lucky enough to be delta 32 or some other kind of immunity, nether the less, your a zombie now. I guess there is HIV infected communities out there, partnerships of people who have aids, living with HIV. LIfe is not over and lets face it, and i hate to use such a blunt clsha but you could get hit by a bus tomorrow...live your life's and just conceder others. Get on with it and stop worrying. the Earth is bloody screaming anyway.

    Ask your self..if not that time, when? you would have gone on devulging into your sexual practise until what? think about it. It is only now that you wish. I say fuck it. Its the same with me, im pretty damn sure she got me, my body doesn't know what the fuck just hit it. i dont need a test to tell me that. But its ok.

  6. Hi,
    you are so brave that you are telling us your pain. It also helps other how to refrain this situation in future. thanks for that. But i want to ask a question from you that you just had sex once with that infected guy and you got hiv from him. but I heard that its just a bad luck if you have it having only once as there is very less chance to get infected in that situation.

  7. Infectious Disease and HIV specialists bringing to Orlando innovative care in the treatment of viral infections, including Chronic Viral Hepatitis B, HIV Treatment

  8. This is a powerful story. I am struggling with the fear that I may have HIV due to a partnet that lied about his HIV-positive status. I have a couple more months of waiting to find out if I have it or not (because of how long it takes to show up in the blood) and it is eating me alive. I have not experienced any symptoms...but I still know there is a chance, and it is a very scary thing.

  9. Same here. Im not sure if we can acquire hiv thru manicure or pedicure. I had it last april 10. I had a cut and i think the tools were unsterile. Someone had a pedicure before me. Im so scared cause I still have sore throat. After 2-3 weeks i had diarrhea,muscle and joint pain,i felt so weak my fingers felt numb and stiff. I didnt have fever. I got tested and it was negative but it was only 1 1/2 mos after the incident. Its too early for the test i think. Im so scared. I dont kniw if its just the effect of stress cause i was thinking of so many things that time. I never had sex with anyone.

  10. what is the chances if i use condom? i am a hetero male from india

  11. condom used but half way slipped down not fully

  12. I think I might have contracted HIV from a girl, taken rapid HIV tests Feb and August (negative) but I'm still wondering because I have swollen nodes and all this stuff... This is just nerve wrecking. To all who read this, PLEASE KEEP IT SAFE or just stay away from sex, people out there will change your life FOREVER. Sad part is, I'm not really heavily sexual... Had 1 sex partner in 22 years but after #2, things started changing so please take it from me, STAY CLEAN!!

  13. Hello, I just wanted to a say an enormous thank you for sharing your story. Your strength is inspiring. From your story it is apparent that you live a full and worthy life, with or without HIV and I hope that you continue to write, and educate people through your experience. Well done :) Stay strong!

  14. Wow, your story is amazing and your candid and honest nature really are empowering to those of us reading and learning from your experience. I'm a volunteer heading over to Zambia, and your story really helps me emotionally prepare not only for my own choices, but for the reality of the people around me. Thank you.

  15. What about if the guy lied as he knew his condition? What about if he suspected it but didn't want to know?

    Many people don't care infecting others, some seek revenge...

    That is the sad truth :(

    One day you wake up positive then everything else is just history...

    What is the most important in your story is how you learned to cope, went over it and how you give hope to many people here.

    Thank you.

    1. I agree maybe the guy knew all along he is infected with HIV ,and when Jessica told him he acted suprise like he is in shock . People lie all the time and they are pretty good liers. many different reasons why people lies, you can't believe to what
      They tell you and can't take their word.
      It is hard to believe that when the guy became sick after unprotected. Sex he would
      Only think about malaria and HIV wouldn't cross his mind. This is Africa the highest rates of Aids in the world, The year is 2011, Aids is not a new disease, almost everyone knows about it.
      On the other hand maybe the guy really didn't know he has it and he is telling the truth .he is like many people who don't know about acute HIV. Many people even today don't know that 2-3 weeks after infection you get flu like symptoms.
      We will never know.
      What we know is that Jessica is doing the right thing yurning negative to positive
      By sharing her story Jessica helping people. When you do good good will come back to you.
      God will bless Jessica with healthy long life.