What is HIV fever?

Like many viruses, HIV can affect different people in different ways. If someone contracts HIV, they might experience persistent or occasional symptoms. Also, their symptoms might be mild or severe.

Their overall health, the stage of their HIV, and the steps they take to manage their condition can all affect their symptoms.

One of the most common symptoms of HIV is fever. Fever occurs when the body temperature is higher than normal. Several different things can cause HIV-related fever. Here are some of the potential causes and when a person should seek treatment for a fever.

What causes HIV-related fevers?

People with HIV can develop a fever for a variety of reasons. They can develop a fever as part of an adverse reaction to medications. Fevers can also be a symptom of many conditions unrelated to HIV, such as the flu.

Other causes include:

Acute HIV

Someone who’s recently contracted HIV is considered to be in the initial phase of infection. This stage of is often called acute or primary HIV infection.

A person with HIV will likely begin to show symptoms of HIV within two to four weeks after contracting it. Recurrent or persistent fevers may be one of the first symptoms they experience. Their fever may also be accompanied by additional symptoms, such as:

Fevers are a normal immune response to viral infections. If someone has an acute HIV infection, persistent fever is a sign that their immune system is still functioning relatively well.

Opportunistic infection

If someone has been living with HIV for a longer period of time or they’ve developed stage 3 HIV, known as AIDS, persistent fevers can be a sign of an opportunistic infection.

An opportunistic infection is one that occurs because of a weakened immune system. When the immune system is healthy, it can fight off many infections. When it’s impaired by HIV, it may be less able to fend off certain bacteria, viruses, and fungi. As a result, a person living with HIV may develop an opportunistic infection.

There are several different types of opportunistic infections. They can range from minor to extremely serious. Examples include:

Malignancy

An effective immune system is able to seek out and destroy some types of cancer before they can grow and cause problems. With an ineffective immune system, certain types of cancer can develop and proliferate without detection. People living with HIV are at higher risk of developing certain cancers, which can cause fever.

Some of these cancers may include:

How long will a fever last?

The length of a fever will depend on its cause and the steps taken to manage it.

The initial stage of HIV can last from months to years. Within that time period, a person may experience intermittent fevers that last anywhere from two to four weeks.

If a fever is related to an opportunistic infection, its length will depend on the type of infection, the treatment a person receives, and their overall condition.

If a fever is caused by medication, its length will depend on the medication, how long someone takes it, and their overall condition.

When should someone go to see a healthcare provider?

Most fevers aren’t serious and resolve on their own. But in some cases, fever can be a sign of a serious issue that requires treatment. A healthcare provider can help someone identify the cause of a fever and prescribe appropriate treatment.

If someone suspects they’ve been exposed to HIV, they should make an appointment with their healthcare provider and ask about HIV testing. If they’re experiencing recurrent fevers or nonspecific symptoms, it may be a sign of an acute HIV infection.

If someone’s already received an HIV diagnosis, they should make an appointment with their healthcare provider as soon as they develop a fever. It may be a sign of an opportunistic infection or problems with their medication regimen. If left untreated, their condition might become worse.

One reason it’s important to adhere to an HIV medication regimen — and investigate any potential problems — is that people with an undetectable viral load are unable to transmit HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An undetectable viral load is defined as less than 200 copies of HIV RNA per milliliter (mL) of blood. This can be achieved with antiretroviral medications.

How will a healthcare provider treat a fever?

In many cases, hydration and rest are all it takes to treat a fever. Depending on its severity and cause, a healthcare provider may also recommend other treatments. For example, they may recommend over-the-counter medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).

If someone has an opportunistic infection, their healthcare provider may prescribe antivirals, antibiotics, or other types of medication. If they suspect someone’s fever is caused by medication, they may adjust the drug regimen.

A person’s outlook depends on the severity and cause of the fever. In many cases, early diagnosis and treatment can help improve a person’s outlook. A person with HIV fever should ask a healthcare provider for more information about their specific condition, treatment options, and outlook.