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Cough, sore throat and rash – are these signs of HIV or ARS?


HIV (Human immunodefiency virus) is an incurable disease that gradually weakens your immune system making you more susceptible to other diseases. If left untreated for long enough you may progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).


ARS or acute retroviral syndrome, includes symptoms that you may experience in the early stages of HIV infection. The symptoms are often described as ‘the worst flu ever’ and usually show 2-4 weeks after exposure. These symptoms may include but are not limited to:


  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Swollen glands
  • Rash over the body


However, these symptoms are also seen in many other, more common conditions such as the common cold, flu, normal viral infections, and may even be environmental (for example smoking may cause sore throat and cough).


If someone truly has been recently infected with HIV, up to 70% may experience these ARS symptoms. But since the symptoms are so varied and can overlap with many other conditions it is important to note that just because you have them does not mean you have HIV. To reiterate – many new HIV infections will cause ARS symptoms but many people experiencing what they believe to be ARS will not have HIV.


The moral to this article is that ARS symptoms are not specific enough to diagnose HIV. If you have had a risky exposure or just want to be 100% sure then the only way to put your mind at rest is to get tested.


I hope that whomever reads this article can now rest a little easier knowing that the symptoms they are experiencing are less likely to be caused by HIV but the best plan is to get tested to be sure.


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  1. Brian

    Dear doctor !
    I have few red spots on my right chest near my shoulder after 2 weeks since i performed oral sex on a guy without condom ( He ajaculated in my mouth ) . These spots are not itch . i’m worrying if that were HIV rash . Although many experts said that Oral sex is low risk but i”m still concern … I hope you would give me more advices as it could help me to lessen my stress . Thank you very much .

    • Your article is very helpful but still I am worried to hell. I had sex with a call girl 20 days back. She sucked my penis without protection. At first my precum was present but I removed it by a cloth. Then she did oral without condom but I didnot ejaculate in her mouth. Then we had sex 2 times with protection. Now I hav small rash on my testicles n penis area which form like white dry skin peeling off without any pain (like ezcema) and little cough, little bit runny nose and mild sore thoart without pain. Plz reply. I am worried to hell.

      • Now i hav dry cough and nausea too… Vomiting sensation but no dierrhea…

          • Your exposure is essentially zero risk for HIV. If you have other symptoms, please see a doctor for proper assessment.

          • I am also having breathlessness issue with muscle pain in one arm…
            And what other symptoms u are reffering to… Plz reply… Thanks

          • Sir i am having folliculitis rash now on my trunk and neck… Is it a sign of hiv on 34th day… Plz reply… Lack of appetite n lots of stress…

          • Plz reply sir

          • Like I have said multiple times, you do not have HIV. But there are other potential causes for your symptoms and you should see a doctor instead of being paranoid over HIV and potentially delaying another diagnosis.

          • The rash is pink in color slightly raised with peeling blister in between like nail marks. It is from last 3 days

          • The rash is pink in color slightly raised with peeling blister in between like nail marks. It is from last 3 days. Itchy at start then gets normal, and i am circumcised too. I didnot had severe sore throat or fever. Thanks for ur reply.

  2. Hi Dr Tan,

    i had casual sex with unknown status guy last two weeks, prior to that at 11am i been in hospital to giv sample of serum. they get my blood thru seringe from the center part of my hand near ankle.at 5pm i had sex i forgot that there was a little wound in my hand wer the blood taken, my sex pertner shot his sperm in my stomuch and clean it with big towel.then i touched my wound. after two days i got sick for two weeks. cough.
    is this a sign of hiv? thank u.

  3. Vikram kn

    Thank you so much for your wonderful paper on living with HIV just like living with daibates o blood pressure.. It really helped me a lot.. I was put on pep for 28 days.. and I did duo test after 2 weeks of pep and it’s non reactive.. I’m waiting for 2 more months for conclusive .. but this article helped me a lot

    • I am glad you found our article useful. The Duo test at 2 weeks is very indicative. I am confident you will be free of HIV. All the best to you.

  4. Hi Dr. Tan…i am a male and I had unprotected sex with a female in June 2016. A couple of weeks later I noticed a mild rash on both my left and right inner elbows (where the crease is). Only on those spots, not anywhere else. The rash was itchy, but I felt sometimes I had to force myself not to try and itch it, and it wouldn’t bother as much. It never went above into my arms or anywhere in the trunk area. It went away by itself around without me putting any kind of ointment a month or so later, though I did notice my left inner elbow happen to start up again but once again mildly. That was also the only symptom I noticed Other than a chronic mild post nasal drip for about 6 months now. I’ve been stressing about it for a long time now, and I was wondering if you could help me understand if this something worth stressing out aboutt? Is this in any kind of way a sign I might have contracted HIV? I have also tested negative for chlaymida and gonnerrhea. Thank you doctor.

    • Dear Shawn

      In my opinion the itchy rash over your elbow flexors could be due to a various skin infection / condition .You would require a formal assessment by a doctor also, in view of your chronic post nasal drip symptoms.

      It is good that you have tested yourself for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
      However , I recommend you getting tested for other STDs and HIV as you had unprotected sex.

  5. May I apologise if my words using in these comments are so weird.

    First, let me brief about me. I am now 28 years old. My ex-girl and me was divorced and I tried to reduce my depression and sadness by going to online and make appointment with call girls at some hotels. But after some time, I know that I am making mistake and stop it totally.

    Ok let me stop my story and apologise to kindly explain me to solve my worries.

    22.07.2014 – I oral sex with a call girl. I licked and sucked vagina because I thought HIC cannot transmit by oral. I think I wrongly swallowed too but after that I had sexed with condom.

    24.07.2014 – 15.8.2014 – I sex with 2 call girls at different days with condom too. I don’t do oral sex, but she give me blowjob without condom.

    24.10.2014 – HIV Tested (Lab Test) and Negative.

    2.11.2014 – 9.1.2015 – I sex with 3 call girls at different days with condom too. I don’t do oral sex, but she give me blowjob without condom.

    After that, I stop sex totally because I start to worry by knowing that even condom cannot protect 100%. Am I get HIV?

    I got Skin Tag and Sebaceous Cyst (as per Doctor mentioned in medical report) around January 2015 and got operation at 7.2.2015. Is it symptom of HIV?

    I got fevers (cough, sore throat and fatigue) after these but no more than 4 days but happens one time per month. Sometimes home medicine is enough to fight fever.

    I got lower behind neck and lower back ache untill now everyday but no less or more. Is it symptom of HIV?

    I got shingles at lower belly around March 2015 but it is not so severe and went out within 2 weeks. Doctor say it may be due to childhood chickenpox but I am not sure I got it a childhood. Is it symptom of HIV that appears look like a half belt at lower belly?

    I got diarrhea sometimes with fever and sometimes without fever but it appear no more than one day and go out again and use to happen one time per 3 months.

    I don’t vomit.

    I bloating without feeling of nausea. Just bloat air only and happen frequently almost everyday especially I am under work stress. I have big belly too and I never lose weight but gain weight even more.

    I don’t lose appetite. I can eat everything.

    Start from last month (October 2016) till now, I feel bloating in day times and itchy throats and sometimes dry cough everyday till now. Is it symptom of HIV?

    I feel tiredness, back fatigue and sleepiness all time in this year 2016 till now and no worsen and lessen. I sleep from 2 AM to 6:00 PM. And I feel boreness on my works. Is it symptom of HIV?

    Please kindly help me to answer my questions. I can give almost exact dates of symptoms that means I am really worrying about HIV infections and if happen, I will lose my job, social, some friends and feel shy in my family and relatives.

    • Why are you doing this to yourself? The solution to your worries is mind-bogglingly simple. Your last exposure was in Jan 2015 yes? That is according to your own account. So right now, go to your nearest clinic/hospital, get a HIV test and put yourself out of your misery. Isn’t that a lot better than what you are doing now which is basically jumping at every little symptom you get?

  6. JULY 27, 2016
    can hiv virus transmitt through using alum?
    Actually Here in India, I had been to a barber for a
    head shave. During shaving there was a cut
    and the barber used a piece of alum to stop the
    bleeding which is a common process here.I
    noticed that he used this alum to a person having
    Hiv.so can i get infected

  7. Paranoid

    Hi Doctor,

    I had a contact with a guy 3 weeks ago. He stroked his penis and then he stroked mine later. He licked my ears and then he pressed his finger against my anus but he didn’t insert it into my anus. He also licked my nipples. I thought such activities do not carry any risk of HIV but 2 weeks later, I have a cold that lasts 2 weeks and runny nose and bodyaches. I’m not sure whether he had any cuts on his finger or whether his finger was bleeding when he pressed it against my anus. Could I have been infected and do I need to go for a test?

  8. Callum

    Hi doctor i had unprotected sex with a female unknown status and I started getting sore throat a week later and a high fever and shivers at night . It’s been 3 weeks now and i still have these symptoms ??? Possibly HIV?

  9. I was worried that i might infected with hiv, for i had an unprotected sex with a woman i met online. I took a test using this hiv kit (fujibio hiv kit)i bought online, 3 mos after my risk sex encounter and the result was negative. My question is. Isthis kit reliable? or my result is conclusive?

    • I have never heard of the fujibio HIV kit and therefore cannot comment on its accuracy. As a general guide, you should always verify your home test HIV results with your doctor.

  10. Hi,

    I had an exposure 6 weeks ago.

    Took a HIV Antibody Test – Enhanced Chemiluminescence Immunoassay at the 25th Day post exposure.

    Can you suggest how indicative this test is at what generation does it belong to.

    At 6 weeks, I have developed a rash all over my body, mainly my hands and the collar area, but no fever or sore throat.

    Have 2 questions –
    Is it possible to get only the rash as the symptom and post 6 weeks?

    What are the chances that this rash is indicative that i am infected.



    • Sounds like you did a 3rd generation test. At 6 weeks this test is as good as conclusive. You should be looking for other possible causes of your rash eg Syphilis.

  11. Hi doctors i had unprotected oral sex and protected sex with a girl whom i barley know who was a tourist to singapore.today is exactly 2weeks and 1 day.i was having coold yst with nausea and feeling to vommit.when i saw the mirror it was like rash on my face,had diarhhea twice.are this symptoms of hiv or any other sickness?pls help me out docs….

  12. Hello dr thank you for taking the time to answer my question does the rash that presents itself in acute infection always accompany a fever i had unprotected oral sex with ejaculation i was the giver they ejaculated in my mouth i started pep 60 hours after exposure i have had a 11 day dna pcr test after pep completion negative and a fourth generation hiv test 11 days after pep negative

  13. Hi Dr,
    In mid May 2015, I had a protected sex with a sex worker oversea. She given me a blowjob with condom and then proceed to sexual intercourse. After ejaculated, when I pulled out my penis, I was shocked that my semen was dripping out from my condom on the bedsheet. I noticed her vagina didn’t drip out any of my semen. The condom was still cover my whole penis and didn’t slide-back all the way back. I slowly removed the condom and quickly go and pee out. After that I took a shower and washed thoroughly. I drink a lot of water to go peeing constantly. I checked the broken condom and realized there was a tiny hole at the left side was broken. After 6 months of exposure, I only got once flu and cough with slight fever after 3 months of exposure, flu lasted about 1 week and cough about 2week. Fever 1 day. All without any medication, just it it healed naturally like I what I did before I got exposure. Other than that, I don’t encounter any sign of rash, loss appetite or joint pain. I still have appetite to eat, exercise and work. This 6 months I do not have any sexual intercourse, just masturbation. Now I am a bit worried if I am high chance to get hiv.

    • The only way to know if you are infected with HIV or not is to get tested. That is something you must do. At the same time, get your doctor to screen you for all other STDs.

  14. Dear Dr. I had unprotected receptive anal sex 7.3 weeks ago. Two weeks later I had all ars symptoms like rash, fever, sore throat, headache, lower back pain, and many others. Some last until now. I tested on day 19 and 36 with rapid blood test and results were negative. My partner tested one day after with rapid blood test and result was negative. But I don’t know about his sex history as well as his window period… I feel very guilty and anxious… I plan to test again at 8 weeks with 4th generation and PCR test hopefully will be negative. How would you think that my negative result at five weeks be changed at 8 weeks or not? That guy also class that he tested every six months and four months before sexy with me… Please advice

  15. Hi Dr,

    I had unprotected sex around two months ago. I got testd 4th gen test after 4 week which is negative. Not sure its duo or antibody test. Method used fingertip blood. I dont have much sympotoms after 2 months but sometimes i saw few rashes or patches on my shoulders but it go away in ine day. Am i still on risk after the 4th week test result ??

    • If it was a combo test, you do not have HIV. You may want to see a doctor to get the rashes assessed although I do not think these rashes have anything to do with HIV.

      • Thank you Doc,

        Today i confirmed with clinic, it was 4th gen antibody test only because i crossed one month timeframe. So its not conclusive right ?
        Can i get tested at 2 months and will that be conclusive or i should wait one more month. Pls advise. Thank u so much.

  16. Hello doc. My dad is HIV+ since 2003. He has been living a healthy life. But lately he has lost a lot of weight and his cheeks have gone considerably inside. He is on ART and was taking 2 tablets known as Emtri. Now the doctor is telling him to take Tavin-LN. Can you explain why such change? the doctors here in India don’t entertain patients as there is a lot of stigma associated . I tried to ask the doctor many times but in vain.

    Waiting in anticipation for your reply.


    • Hi Abbey. I do not have enough information to explain the change. I can only assume it is due to what we call virologic failure. That means for some reason the old medicines are not working anymore and the viral load in his body is rising. I am also assuming that this is causing his weight loss and cachexia. These are all huge assumptions. It can also be because his old medicines are causing fat re-distribution in his body making his cheeks look hollow. I honestly do not know. Or maybe he has some other disease like TB or Cancer that is causing the change. As you can see, I am just making wild guesses. The best person to explain all this to you is his doctor. I do not know how you are going to do it but you really need to drag some information out of him.

  17. Doctor? is it normal to feel a small gland at the back of your left ear?

    • Yes there are lymph nodes behind the ear and for some people, they are palpable.

  18. Hi doctor,
    I have had HIV testing before and it was negative. But after getting drunk had a minor incident. This happened 2 weeks ago. I visiited a masseuse no oralsex, no penetrative sex and no kissing happend. I just sucked on her nipples and rubbed her clit but I had a cut from a hobby knife which was more than 6 days old. And she gave me a handjob. Did I put myself in any risk for std’s ? Thank you for your time.

  19. Worried

    I have acne or pimples may appear around hair follicles on the upper arms and chest. Also, red spots and red patches on elbows, hand, feet, back, body. I feel fatigue and I have flus (on and off) for the past month.

    I have unprotected sex with some one few months ago.

    I have visited my family doctor. They told me to drink more water and rest more. Can be infected with HIV?

    • You definitely had put yourself at risk of HIV. Your symptoms may or may not be related to HIV. The best way to find out is to get yourself tested. You are welcomed to visit us at any of our clinics to get tested.

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