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.

My Numbers

Viral Load
CD4 Count
Additional Comments

Lusaka, Zambia
*Transmission Event

Rural Zambia
*Develop Malaria like symptoms- extreme headache behind eyes, high fever, chills/sweats, body aches, diarrhea

Lusaka, Zambia
* Brought to Peace Corps Headquarters
*symptoms continue and escalate

Lusaka, Zambia
*Admitted to Hospital
*vomiting and rash begin, diarrhea increases
*administered fluids and medicines via IV
*Two HIV tests return with negative results

Lusaka, Zambia- JoBurg, S. Africa
*Medically Evacuated to South Africa and Hospitalized
*symptoms begin to decrease
*One HIV test returns with a positive result

South Africa
*Hospital- Continue with additional HIV testing
*Second positive test result
>10 million
(maximum testing range)
South Africa
*Hospital- Continue with additional HIV testing
*Final HIV Confirmatory Test- Positive Result
*Diagnosed with Acute HIV Infection/Seroconversion

South Africa
*Discharged from Hospital

South Africa
*Stay at Peace Corps Medevac Guest House

South Africa- Washington D.C, USA
*Fly to Peace Corps Headquarters and Medevac Hotel
1.8 million
Washington D.C.
*First Infectious Disease Specialist Appointment and Lab Work
*Start taking Bactrim for PCP Prophylaxis
1.7 million
Washington D.C.
*Second Appointment and Lab Work
*Make decision to start on HAART to treat HIV

Washington D.C.
*Take first dose of Atripla

Washington D.C.
*Itchy rash develops on entire body- may be due to Bactrim or Atripla
*Discontinue taking Bactrim

Washington D.C.
*Third Appointment
*Prescribed Dapsone to replace Bactrim, but do not start taking it
Washington D.C.
*3 Weeks on Atripla!

Washington D.C.
*Start taking Dapsone

Washington D.C.
*Officially Medically Separated from Peace Corps
*Fly home

*FECA Claim Approved
*First Doctor Appointment on my own with my new doctor
*2 months on Atripla!

*Start taking Primaquine for terminal malaria prophylaxis and switch to Mepron instead of Dapsone
*3 months on Atripla!
*Switch to New Doctor
*4.5 months on Atripla!
*7.5 months on Atripla
*New Doctor
* Start taking Stribild instead of Atripla
*2 months on Stribild


  1. Dear Jessica,

    I just found this and you are amazing! I cannot imagine what you are going through (except by reading your words) but I am in awe and feel enlightened and admiration. The strength that it takes to share your life and this experience ... there are no words really, not yet anyway.

    I just wanted to say THANK YOU!

  2. I am a soon-to-be PCV going to South Africa in a few short weeks. Finding this blog has given me the power of information and awareness even above and beyond what PC will be teaching. You're so brave for sharing your story and being so open and honest with the world. I'm sending nothing but positive thoughts your way :)

  3. I have a question that maybe you know or your doctors know. If you're CD4 count is 190 one day -- number is under 200 so you would be said to have AIDS -- but then the next week it goes up to 250. Is it possible to go back and forth from having AIDS to not having AIDS?

  4. Anonymous,
    To my knowledge: Once your CD4 goes under 200, you receive a diagnosis of AIDS. That diagnosis will always remain, no matter if your CD4 rises back up or not. It is not possible to "go back and forth having AIDS". However, there is one exception that I know of: IF your CD4 falls under 200 during the Acute Infection/Seroconversion phase, you are not given a diagnosis of AIDS. A low CD4 very early in infection like this is simply due to the HIV virus being new to your body (and it is expected that the numbers go a little "crazy" before settling out), rather than a low CD4 later down the road which happens when the HIV has been attacking your body for a long time and then progresses to "AIDS". (For example, in my situation, I only have a diagnosis of HIV, not a diagnosis of AIDS, because when my CD4 went under 200 it was during the Acute Phase).
    Very great question! I hope this helps.

  5. Hi Jessica,

    I was just curious about Primaquine and terminal malaria prophylaxis. Why did you wait until many weeks after your return to take it? Also, how do Dapsone and Mepron play into your treatment? I am by no means a physician or pharmacist, but was just curious about how all these things are working together.

    1. Anonymous,
      All volunteers returning from malarial countries must take a 2 week course of Primaquine to rid themselves of any possible malaria bugs "hiding" deep within their organs. It was quite unfortunate, but due to a nationwide shortage and nonexistence of Primaquine, I was not able to get it and take it until many weeks after when I was originally supposed to. The pharmacies didn't have any in stock, and the drug manufacturing companies were not making it, so pharmacies could not even order it. RPCVs all over the country were unable to get it like they needed to. I finally was able to find a hospital nearby (after months of searching) that happened to have some in stock and agreed to sell it to a private pharmacy so that I could get it. I know of other PCV friends that still have not been able to get it.
      Bactrim is the first line of prophylaxis for PCP (a certain type of pneumonia that people with HIV are prone to if their CD4 falls under 200). I had a reaction to the Bactrim, so then was put on Dapsone (the second line prophylaxis for PCP). I was finally switched to Mepron (the third line prophylaxis for PCP) because we were concerned about a possible interaction between the Primaquine and Dapsone. I had to stay on PCP prophylaxis for 3 months and/or until my CD4 was reliably above 200. I am now off of everything, except my HIV med- Atripla. Yay!

    2. Wow! Thanks for the explanation! I hope things work out so that other PCV's get primaquine, too. Congrats on being done with PCP prophylaxis! It seems like your life is starting to gain a sense of normalcy again. I sincerely wish you all the best, Jess. No going back, there is only forward. I think this is a great mantra. I've been saying it to myself lately and found it really empowering. Thank you.

  6. Hi,

    I have a question and i did n't find an answer for that in FAQ's, if you can answer that, my question is :- Is it really true that HIV can go undetected for as long as 10 years or something.Or a person can live healthy life for many years after contracting with virus without developing any symptoms.


    I am thankful for all the valuable information on your blog.

    1. In response to your questions,
      1. Is it really true that HIV can go undetected for as long as 10 years?
      No, if you have contracted HIV, you will test positive for HIV within a few months of getting it. The tests meausure whether you have developed antibodies to HIV, and this will indicate that you do have HIV. Please don't get confused by the word "undetectable" which means something entirely different. When a person with HIV talks about being "undetectable" or having a viral load that is "undetectable", this means that although the person STILL has HIV, but the levels of the virus in their blood has become so low that it no longer registers on a viral load test. The best way to become "undetectable" is to be on ARV medications. Remember that even if you are "undetectable", you still have the virus, and you can still pass it on to others.
      2. Can you live a long healthy life without ever developing symptoms of HIV?
      Without treatment, a person with HIV may live a healthy/symptom free life for around 10 years (this varies a lot between people), before the disease starts to progress and they start to develop health issues. With treatment, a person may be able to live many many more years with a healthy life minus symptoms/issues.

  7. Thank you for educating me and sharing your story. I read your poem and reflected on decisions that I have made; I had tears in my eyes. You are one brave lady and pray that God continues to strengthen, bless and protect you and your family.

  8. Thank you for sharing your story.Amazing story.

  9. Hi, I am RPCV Zambia (2003-2005) and currently work domestically in HIV. It's great to see your viral load is now undetectable, congratulations! Has this changed how you view your health, if so, how? I want to echo all the others who have sent you well wishes and support and say thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Even with my viral load being undetectable and knowing that my health is okay, my diagnosis is still only a year old, so being newly diagnosed is still a huge burden on me and my emotions. Coming to terms with and accepting the fact that I am HIV+ is still a mental and emotional challenge for me.

    2. I acquired HIV from my boyfriend, I found out about 3 years ago and thought I was ok with it until recently. i have started getting really resentful and I am not sure what to do about it. Any suggestions?

  10. Thank you very much for sharing your story. I am very concern at the moment at I might have a possible contact with a HIV+ person. It's been about 5 days now and I been having a sore throat since the night that i slept with this person. I am so scared my now just waiting for the next 2-4 weeks if I have any of your symptoms. If get past this I swear I will never be reckless again. I'll keep you posted on my condition. Please help pray for me.

  11. Hello, My name is Jen B. I host an online radio show titled Do Harm Radio. I would like to interview you regarding your status and experience with the HIV virus. Would you be interested in being interviewed on our show? please e-mail me at doharmradio@gmail.com

  12. Thanks for all the chronology... it does educate ppl out there... :)

  13. i am on Atripla for two years and my cd4 count is at 540. I see that you changed from Atripla to Stribild and your CD4 count has double. do you recommend Stribild?

    1. I prefer Stribild simply because of the fewer side effects. Atripla made me tired and nauseous in the early morning when I had to get up for work. Stribild does not do that. I am not sure if my increase in CD4 is due to the Stribild or just a steady increase over time and being in better health overall...

  14. Hi, can you please help to share the rash that you get when the sero mode? does it a lot and itchy or not? and how long the rash happened? does it come and go?
    thanks for the answer

    1. My rash was of the viral sort, as soon as the doctors saw it, that is what led them to start looking in the direction of a virus. Do you know how you can get a rash under your arms/chest area if you get strep throat? It was similar to that... it started and stayed mostly on my chest & stomach, it was not severe, it stayed for about 2 days & did not come and go, I don't remember it being itchy

    2. Hi LP,
      Thanks for the answer, I had never known about the strep throat but i'll try to check on the internet. I'm having red dots which comes and go for about a month already at the back of my palm/hand probably 7 dots blanching the most and then one or two keep coming back.. :-( . Other dots maybe 3-5 sometimes can be fined somewhere else from the limb to the back.. so your rash are a lots of them covered your body?

      BTW, another question, about the swollen lymph nodes, can u clearly see it?

      Sorry to ask you a lot.. but I do appreciate on your response..


  15. Please post an update on how you are doing! I think of you often!