March 24, 2013

Q&A: Incubation Time for the HIV/AIDS Infection

Acute HIV infection may present as a mononucleosis type of syndrome with a constellation of nonspecific symptoms. Without a high degree of suspicion, the diagnosis can frequently be missed by clinicians. In some cases, early HIV infection may be asymptomatic.

This article is for Medical Students & Professionals
This is a Question & Answer revision article designed for medical students and professionals preparing for the PLAB, MRCP or USMLE examinations. They are based on actual questions from these examinations. You may find the HIV Disease article more useful, or one of our many articles on Diseases & Conditions, Medical Syndromes, Health & Wellness or Home Remedies.
In this article:
Definition of terms in HIV care
MCQ exam: clinical scenario
MCQ exam: answer
MCQ exam: explanation

Definition of terms in HIV care

Different terms, including acute, recent, primary, and early HIV infection, have been used in the literature to refer to variable intervals following initial infection with the virus. In clinical parlance, the term "early HIV infection" usually refer to the approximate six-month period following HIV acquisition. While the term "acute HIV infection" refer to symptomatic early infection, as this reflects common usage in clinical care.

A variety of symptoms and signs may be seen in association with acute HIV infection, known as the acute retroviral syndrome. The most common findings are fever, lymphadenopathy, sore throat, rash, myalgia/arthralgia, and headache. When it occurs, painful mucocutaneous ulceration is one of the most distinctive manifestations of acute HIV infection. Aseptic meningitis has also been reported. Some patients with early HIV infection may have no or only very mild symptoms.

MCQ exam: clinical scenario

Which of the options below best describes the length of time from initial infection of an individual with the HIV virus to the time of manifestation of AIDS-related symptoms:

a). Up to but less than 5 years
b). Up to but less than 10 years
c). Between 10 to 30 years
d). All of the above
e). None of the above

MCQ questions & answers on

MCQ exam: answer

The correct answer is E.

MCQ exam: explanation

No one really knows how long it takes HIV to cause AIDS. Time lines vary greatly from person to person, and it depends on many factors, including a person's health status, current and ongoing nutrition status and their health-related behaviors.

1). UpToDate: Acute and early HIV infection: Clinical manifestations and diagnosis. Available online:

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