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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 22, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 43
Dr. J: ru2hot?
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Dr. J: ru2hot?

by Dr. Joanne Stekler - Special to the SGN

Joanne Stekler, MD, MPH, is Deputy Director of Community Services for the HIV/STD Program at Public Health - Seattle & King County. She is also an internal medicine and infectious disease physician at Harborview Medical Center, and assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Washington.

This is the second in a series of articles focusing on HIV and other STD prevention and care topics for Gay/Bisexual men and Transgender individuals in Seattle & King County.


ru2hot?

You may have seen a billboard sporting this question at Denny Way and Stewart last week. So what is ru2hot? It's an education campaign designed to teach the symptoms of acute HIV infection to Gay and Bisexual men in Seattle. The campaign was developed by the University of Washington and Public Health with help from community organizations and lots of you.

Maybe it's not just a fever.

'Acute HIV infection' is the two- to four-week period right after someone gets HIV. About half of people who get HIV will have a flu-like illness during this period. Symptoms can include fever, feeling tired, rash, swollen tonsils or lymph nodes, sore throat, headache, joint or muscle aches, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or night sweats. Some people get sicker than others. Some people have no symptoms at all. And it's important to know that having these symptoms does not mean you have HIV. These same symptoms can be caused by other infections like mono, strep throat, or the flu. The only way to know for sure is to get an HIV test.

RNA tests find HIV one to two weeks after infection.

You may have heard of the 'window period.' It takes our immune systems several weeks to make antibodies to any new infection, including HIV. Because most HIV tests look for these antibodies, you might get the wrong result if you tested right after getting infected. That's the window period. And that's why you've been told to wait six weeks to three months after an exposure before getting an HIV test. But HIV RNA tests look for the actual virus, not antibodies. You can test a couple of weeks after an exposure. You can test right away if you're having symptoms, but only if you get an RNA test.

I thought you should know about acute HIV for a few reasons:

o So you can get an RNA test.

o So you can take better care of your health. We don't know for sure, but taking HIV meds during acute infection may slow the damage HIV causes to the body over time.

o So you can protect yourself and your partners. Someone with acute HIV may be 10 times more likely to infect their sex partners because they could have more than 1,000,000 HIV copies in a tiny bit of blood or semen!

So let's say you meet a guy and decide for whatever reasons to have sex without a condom. Two weeks later, you get a fever and sore throat and feel pretty sick. You go to the emergency room or your doctor. Maybe they do a test for the flu, but it's not the flu. The doc says that you just have a viral illness, and you should go home and drink fluids. In your most pleasant voice, ask for an HIV test - and make sure it's an RNA test. It probably isn't HIV. But it's better to know.

HIV RNA testing has been available in Seattle since 2003. If you're a guy who has sex with other guys, you can get RNA testing if you have symptoms of acute HIV or as part of your regular HIV testing at Public Health's STD Clinic, Gay City, the baths, and some private health clinics around the city. For hours and locations, call 206-296-4649 or go to www.kingcounty.gov/health/hiv. For more information on acute HIV infection and RNA testing, check out the website: www.ru2hot.org.

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