UPDATE COMING We’re currently working to update this article. Studies have shown that a person living with HIV who is on regular antiretroviral therapy that reduces the virus to undetectable levels in the blood is NOT able to transmit HIV to a partner during sex. This page will be updated soon to reflect the medical consensus that “Undetectable = Untransmittable.”
One of the early signs of HIV is often a rash. This typically appears after you’ve developed a fever and experienced other flu-like symptoms. This rash usually lasts about a week.
Although this rash tends to appear on the upper body and face, it can appear anywhere on the body, including the penis.
HIV is a chronic and incurable virus that weakens your immune system. It’s usually spread by sexual contact. Although a cure for HIV isn’t available, its symptoms are treatable. If you don’t get treatment for it, the virus can lead to AIDS.
You can have HIV for several years before it progresses to AIDS. The longer you wait to start treatment, the greater the risk to your health.
If you develop AIDS, it means your immune system has become severely weakened. This makes you vulnerable to opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia. Although they can be lethal to anyone, they can be especially harmful to someone with AIDS.
What are the other symptoms of HIV?
Within a couple of weeks of being infected with HIV, you may develop symptoms that are a lot like the flu. This includes:
- a fever
- muscle and joint aches
- sore throat
Sometimes, people with HIV mistake these symptoms for the flu and put off seeing a doctor.
Some men develop sores or ulcers after becoming infected with HIV. These sores are often painful. They can appear on the:
Like a rash that can appear on the penis, these sores or ulcers usually show up within a month after being infected. Not all HIV-positive men get these sores, though.
Your lymph nodes in the neck and armpit may also swell soon after infection. While the flu-like symptoms and rash may disappear on their own, swelling of certain lymph nodes may last for a long time. This can continue even after you start treatment.
It’s also possible to have a mild HIV infection that doesn’t produce a rash or other obvious symptoms soon after becoming infected.
What else can cause a rash on the penis?
Genital rashes aren’t always a sign of HIV. They can result from a number of other conditions, including:
- jock itch, which is a fungal infection associated with staying in sweaty clothing for too long
- a yeast infection, which is an overgrowth of fungus
- balanitis, or the swelling of the penis tip or foreskin, which is associated with poor hygiene
- contact dermatitis, which may result from allergens
They can also indicate the presence of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as:
What to expect at the doctor’s office
A rash on your penis isn’t enough to diagnose HIV or any other potential causes of this condition. For example, a yeast infection can cause a red rash to appear on the penis. The tip of the penis can also feel itchy. Although women are much more likely to develop yeast infections, men can get these infections, too.
Regardless of the cause, your doctor should evaluate a rash on your penis. If you have other symptoms, be sure to explain them to your doctor. This can help them make a diagnosis.
The only way to confirm the presence of HIV is through a blood test. If you’re in a high-risk group and you suspect you’ve been exposed to the virus, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.
For a long time, HIV could be diagnosed through a blood test that looked for antibodies to the virus. After exposure to the virus, it can take several weeks for the body to produce HIV antibodies. This means that if you’re tested too soon after possible exposure, the infection may not be detected.
HIV also produces a protein known as HIV antigen. This appears very soon after infection. A blood test for the HIV antigen is available. It can confirm whether you have the virus within days after a sexual encounter or if you have another potential cause of infection.
If you have a rash on your penis and an HIV test comes up negative, your doctor may have you take a urine test to look for a possible yeast or fungal infection.
How is this treated?
If your rash isn’t related to HIV, your doctor will likely recommend an over-the-counter or prescription medication or ointment to relieve your symptoms. The recommended medication depends on whether the rash is:
If your doctor diagnoses you with HIV, they’ll discuss your treatment options with you. The standard treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). It includes a combination of medicines taken daily to help reduce the amount of HIV in the body. It can’t eliminate the virus, but it can minimize the level of circulating virus. Minimizing the amount of virus present in your body can help you to be better protected against other viruses.
An average rash will generally clear up in one or two weeks.
If you’ve been diagnosed with HIV, your doctor will work with you to start your treatment regimen. Controlling HIV and preventing it from becoming full-blown AIDS requires a daily dedication to your ART. You must also practice safe sex and avoid behaviors that could put you and your health at greater risk.
Successful HIV management demands a good working relationship and open communication between you and your doctor. If you don’t feel you’re getting the answers you want from your doctor, seek out a new doctor with experience in working with people who have HIV.
You can limit your chance of exposure by wearing a condom during intercourse and engaging in other safe-sex practices. If you’re planning to engage in sexual activity with a new partner, talk about HIV testing. Consider going together to get tested.
If one of you is HIV-positive, move forward with treatment. You should also talk with your doctor about how the other person can stay safe and avoid infection.