What Does An HIV Rash Look Like?

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HIV Rash: Symptoms & Treatments

HIV rash can occur at any stage of infection, but in general, it is noticeable 2-3 weeks after you have contracted the virus. This phase is called 'acute HIV' and is marked by a rash that is red, slightly raised, non-itchy and accompanied with flu-like symptoms. Itchy and sore rashes might also develop in the later stages as an allergic reaction to certain HIV medications.

In the United States, more than 1.2 million people are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). But an estimated 12.8 percent don’t even know that they’re infected.1 Early detection of the virus means early treatment. But how do you catch it early? It might come down to a simple rash, a possible sign of HIV.

About 90 percent of people with HIV develop skin conditions and changes.2 A rash can crop up from the HIV itself – one of the first signs of the infection. It can also be from other secondary infections as the immune system weakens due to HIV. A rash can even be a side effect of medicines used to fight HIV.3

Clearly, there are various possibilities. So here’s a detailed look at the different ways HIV can give you a rash.

Rash Caused By HIV

Up to 80 percent of people who get HIV experience brief flu-like symptoms about 2 to 6 weeks after they get infected. This is known as acute HIV or seroconversion illness. A non-itchy body rash that lasts between 2 to 3 weeks is a common symptom. This “maculopapular rash” is marked by redness with small bumps that may seem to merge together.4 5 Other common symptoms include fever and a sore throat. You might also have joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue, and swollen glands. Granted, these symptoms can be caused by other things. But it’s crucial to know that they may also mean your immune system is battling HIV. If you have any of these symptoms and have been exposed to HIV in the past few weeks, do yourself a favor and get tested. Remember, exposure can happen from unprotected sex or sharing needles.6 If you can catch the infection early, treatment can start before your immune system weakens. What’s even better? It can slow down the progression to AIDS.7

Rash Caused By Other Infections

Once the initial symptoms disappear, HIV might not cause any other symptoms for many years. You’ll probably seem totally healthy. But without treatment, the virus will continue to damage your immune system. And when your immunity is compromised, you’re at risk for quite a few illnesses. These include several skin conditions that can lead to a noticeable rash.

Eczema may cause parts of your skin to become itchy, red, sore, and dry. Luckily, it can be treated with anti-allergy medication called antihistamines. It’s a good idea to avoid long baths and body products that irritate your skin. Make sure to use an aqueous cream or moisturizer.

Dermatitis or skin inflammation can cause red patches and a flaky rash. In some cases, fungal infections can be a trigger. Seborrhoeic dermatitis, marked by inflamed oil glands and yellowish dandruff, is common in HIV and develops in hairy parts of the body. This condition can be treated with antifungal creams, tablets, and steroid ointments. Antifungal or antidandruff shampoo can be used on the scalp.

Tinea, a fungal infection, can cause moist white patches and flaky red skin. Antifungal creams are used as treatment. Try your best to keep your skin dry and away from irritants like deodorants.

Folliculitis is an infection that can cause small bumps in hair follicles (roots). Since it’s triggered by yeast, treatment calls for antifungal medication.

Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection marked by yellowish, red crusty sores. You will need antibiotics to fight this condition.

Herpes is a viral infection that can cause cold sores (oral herpes) or painful blisters in the genital area (genital herpes). Though there’s no cure for herpes, antiviral medication can help the symptoms.8

Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus. It results in a blistering, painful rash that occurs as a stripe on one side of the body. Oral antiviral medication can be useful for this condition.9

Kaposi’s sarcoma is a rare cancer caused by the human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8). An initial symptom of this disease is small, flat, red or purple discolored areas inside the mouth or on the skin. These tend to look like bruises but are painless. HIV medication which improves the immune system, allowing it to fight HHV-8, can be useful here. Radiotherapy or chemotherapy may also be used for treatment in some cases.10

Rash As A Side Effect Of Medication

A common side effect of HIV medication is a rash. This isn’t usually serious, though. It will disappear without treatment in a few days or weeks. Yet, in some cases, it might mean that you have a hypersensitivity (extreme allergy) to a medication. It could also be fatal. Signs of hypersensitivity may include fatigue, fever, kidney damage, and trouble breathing. There’s some evidence that women have a higher risk for developing a severe rash from certain HIV medications.11

In some cases, a serious allergic reaction called Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) may develop. This life-threatening condition can cause your face or tongue to swell up. You may have a fever and itchy or painful skin. To top it off, blisters can also show up, especially around your nose, mouth, and eyes. Often, a rash caused by SJS will develop and spread quickly. And while this syndrome is rare, it’s important to get emergency medical help if you have these symptoms after starting a drug. Make it a point to speak with your doctor and learn about the potential side effects of your medications.12

While there’s still no cure for AIDS, better medicine has drastically reduced AIDS-related deaths in the United States. If you suspect that you’ve been exposed to HIV, get tested as soon as possible. Early treatment is vital for living a long and healthy life, even if you have HIV.

References   [ + ]

1. Statistics: United States.The American Foundation for AIDS Research.
2. SKIN AND COMPLEXION. UC San Diego Health.
3, 12. Side Effects of HIV Medicines. National Institutes of Health.
4. HIV: migrant health guide. Public Health England.
5, 8. Skin problems. NAM Aidsmap.
6. Symptoms of HIV. National Health Service.
7. HIV/AIDS. Harvard Health Publications.
9. SKIN AND COMPLEXION. University of California, San Diego.
10. Kaposi’s sarcoma. National Health Service.
11. Bersoff-Matcha, Susan J., William C. Miller, Judith A. Aberg, Charles van der Horst, H. James Hamrick, William G. Powderly, and Linda M. Mundy. “Sex differences in nevirapine rash.” Clinical Infectious Diseases 32, no. 1 (2001): 124-129.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.