HIV, or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is one of the most dreaded diseases globally. In the United States, more than 1.1 million people are living with HIV. Among these, about 14% have not yet been diagnosed with the disease and may be unaware of the infection.

When a person acquires HIV, flu-like symptoms may manifest soon. However, the earliest sign of HIV, as patients report in numerous cases, is the development of a rash. Rashes appear as a result of the immune system of the subject becoming weak and unable to fight the virus, thus causing a skin reaction.

Rash, being a symptom of HIV, usually occurs within the first two months after the initial infection with the virus. Keep in mind that rashes or skin lesions are also symptoms of other sexually transmitted or viral diseases. Consequently, it is pertinent to learn how to identify an HIV rash and distinguish it from rashes caused by other STDs.

It is also clear that this HIV-related skin reaction is either caused by the virus or as a side-effect of HIV antiretroviral drugs.

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The 13 symptoms of HIV

How do I identify HIV rash?

Understanding how to identify a rash caused by the HIV infection is critical, as this can help you distinguish between the possibility of this STI instead of another underlying cause.

It doesn't matter a lot whether the rash is the result of the HIV infection itself or the side-effects of antiretroviral medication. The most important is how it looks. It usually appears flat or a little raised, with small reddish spots in light-skinned people, and black or dark-purpled in dark-skinned people. 

The HIV rash can appear on any part of the body. However, it is more prominent on the face, chest, feet, and hands of the infected individual. It often produces itchiness, and can further develop into mouth ulcers. There are an oral test and a blood test available in the market to identify the actual cause of the rash and to avoid confusion. These tests are efficient in detecting the specific antibodies that our body creates to fight the infection. 

  • Slightly raised, red, or itchy rash might be an early sign of HIV.
  • It usually appears on the chest, face, hands, and upper parts of the body.
  • Try to notice other symptoms like joint pain, diarrhea, fever, and mouth sores.
  • Upon risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex or drug use, make sure to get tested for HIV.

What are the dangers of HIV rash?

The severity of HIV rash is relative and individualized. In some cases, it appears to be mild and gentle. In others, it may be severe, causing considerable damage to the skin. Sometimes, it can be severe enough to become life-threatening.

On the other hand, when the HIV rash is due to side-effects of antiretroviral drugs, a potentially dangerous outbreak can occur. This rather uncommon and possibly severe condition is known as Steves-Johnson Syndrome (SJS).

When SJS aggravates and covers about 30 percent of the human body, it transforms into what is further called Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN). Therefore, you should monitor your health by conducting regular HIV tests and be aware of your HIV status whenever you see a rash. 

Symptoms that may accompany HIV rash

Depending on the stage or the intensity of the disease, there are plenty of complementary symptoms that could accompany this type of rash. Some of the most common signs are the following:

  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Fever.
  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • Mobility issues that lead to severe pain upon movement.

Rashes that are associated with HIV

Seroconversion Rash

seroconversion-rash

One of the most common types of rashes experienced by a person with HIV is the seroconversion rash. The rash develops during the seroconversion stage of the illness. This particular rash will usually appear just a couple of weeks after the initial infection with the virus. In most cases, flu-like symptoms will be present too.

The reason for the development of the rash, as well as the flu symptoms, is the seroconversion process. The seroconversion process is when the body starts to produce antibodies that target HIV, intending to fight off the pathogen that has entered the body.

The seroconversion rash usually targets the larger body surfaces, such as the back and the chest. However, it may spread to other parts of the body, as well. In addition to the rash, the seroconversion process could also lead to swollen lymph nodes. Fever may also develop during this period.

Atopic dermatitis

This type of rash often occasions scaly, red, and itchy rash that is caused by chronic inflammatory conditions. A patient with this kind of rash may experience it on specific regions of the body, which includes the hands, ankles, feet, eyelids, knees, elbows, wrist, and neck.

Keep in mind that atopic dermatitis affects thirty percent of the US population and usually strikes those in urban areas. One may manage the condition with skin-repairing lotions, antibiotics, corticosteroid creams, and other related medications.

Xerosis

This type of rash is usually itchy and often appears on the legs and arms of the patient. It often causes skin dryness. It is common and could appear in non-HIV infected patients as well, under certain circumstances. These factors could be linked to very hot or dry weather or having a warm bath or too much exposure to the sun. Be that as it may, xerosis can disappear with the use of moisturizers, and by avoiding the aforementioned atmospheric factors that cause it. 

Eosinophilic folliculitis

Itchy feeling and the presence of red bumps are the major features of this type of rash, which appears on hair follicles. Eosinophilic folliculitis often appears in late-stage HIV.

Warts

Warts are common and affect the top layer of the skin with the development of strange growths. It is usually the result of human Papillomavirus and looks a lot like bumps with black dots. When one experiences this type of rash, it could appear at the back of the hand, nose, or feet. Simple procedures like freezing may be used to manage the situation. The presence of HIV makes it difficult for the immune system to eradicate warts or stand as a shield in the future. 

Herpes

herpes rash

Herpes is another type of sexually transmitted disease that spreads efficiently from one body to another, principally through sex. The impaired immune system of a patient with HIV provides easy access to the herpes virus. The reason is that the already weakened immunity of an individual with HIV cannot compete against the new infection. 

The herpes virus causes blisters that are generally crusty and painful, and they may seem like a rash. The most common areas affected by these spots include the genital area, as well as the mouth. In most cases, a person with HIV will develop the symptoms of herpes in both of these areas.

Skin fungal infections

Skin fungus

Due to the weakened immune system in a person with HIV, there is a higher risk of developing different types of fungal infections that affect the skin. In a healthy person, the immune system will often assist in fighting against the pathogens. Unfortunately, when a person with HIV has to encounter a pathogenic fungus species, there is a high likelihood of infection. Ringworm is the most common type of fungal infection that causes a rash on the skin, but there are others to be wary of as well.

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The Side Effects of HIV On Your Body

Risk factors for acquiring HIV

  • Syringes, needles, and other sharp objects exchange with strangers
  • Blood transfusions
  • An HIV-positive mother that breastfeeds
  • Unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a stranger
  • Multiple sex partners
  • Sex with an HIV infected person

Can HIV rash be a symptom caused by the side effect of medication

Apart from rash appearing as a natural symptom of HIV infection, HIV rashes may also appear as a side-effect of or an allergic reaction to some antiretroviral drugs or medication. Three classes are responsible for causing HIV rash. These drugs are:

  • Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs) medications, especially nevirapine, which are responsible for most and the most severe of the HIV rash caused by HIV medication. HIV rash caused by NNRTIs is also gender-sensitive as it is more likely to appear in women than in men.
  • Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTI) drugs or medications such as Ziagen (abacavir) may cause severe allergic reactions, which could occasionally cause HIV rash. Though Ziagen rarely causes HIV rash as a side-effect, if it does, the patient should consult a physician immediately.
  • Protease Inhibitor (PI) drugs or medications such as tipranavir and amprenavir are usually reported to cause HIV rash as side-effects or allergic reactions.
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How long can I live with HIV?

How do I treat HIV rash?

Advancement in modern medicine makes skin problems easy to treat. Treating HIV rash to alleviate the symptoms is possible. However, total eradication would require curing the primary infection. Because there is no cure for HIV yet, recurrence is common.

There are many reasons why a person may develop a rash. It could be due to the HIV infection itself, especially at an early stage, or rather be due to the development of another condition as a complication of HIV. To develop an effective treatment plan against the HIV rash, the cause of it should be clear.

Types of medicines that fight against HIV rash

The medication used to manage HIV rash depends on the cause of the HIV rash. Ordinarily, over-the-counter drugs like hydrocortisone cream and diphenhydramine have been clinically tested and have proven over time to alleviate itchiness and reduce the extent of the rash.

While these creams might be effective, other pharmaceutical products may be necessary to help the patient get relieved of a rash associated with HIV. A typical example is when it is secondary to another opportunistic infection.

How to deal with HIV rash

Apart from medication, the patient should avoid hot showers and baths, as they usually worsen the condition. Also, the patient should avoid direct sunlight, use only mild toiletries and detergents, use moisturizers or calamine lotion, wear cotton, and avoid wearing wool, etc. It is vital to see a doctor once rashes or lesions begin to appear on any part of your body because early detection and early management are crucial. 

When should you see a doctor?

HIV is a dangerous, sexually transmitted infection that strikes the immune system and progressively weakens it, eventually causing complications that lead to death. Even though there is no cure for HIV infection, there are therapies available that can manage the disease efficiently. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial in prolonging the lifespan and survival rate of an infected person.

Understanding when you should make an appointment with your doctor is critical. A rash is often one of the very first indications that this is needed.

If you participated in unprotected sex with a new partner and had a newly formed rash, it might be a good idea to get tested. If you have swollen lymph nodes and you develop a fever, accompanied by flu-like symptoms, then these are definite warning signs.

Can you test for HIV at home?

Many people are concerned about going out to a public clinic to get themselves tested for the HIV infection. As a result, a common question erupts. Can you test for this infection at home?

Below you can place an order and quickly obtain an HIV rapid test kit at home. If you have any questions, our experienced team will provide you with an extensive and discreet consultation regarding HIV and how to perform the test yourself.