Patient experiences following acute HIV infection diagnosis and counseling in South Africa

Individuals in the acute stage of HIV infection (AHI) have an elevated potential to transmit HIV and play a critical role in the growth of the epidemic. Routine identification and counseling of individuals during AHI could decrease transmission behavior during this key period. However, diagnosis of AHI may present challenges distinct from those experienced through diagnosis of established HIV infection. A study was conducted in a public youth clinic outside of Cape Town, South Africa, to identify and counsel individuals with acute stage HIV infection. In-depth interviews were conducted with patients following diagnosis. After counseling, patients were accepting of the testing regimen used to diagnose AHI. They used the knowledge of having been recently infected to identify the source of their infection, but did not retain or place importance on information regarding the increased ability to transmit HIV during the acute stage. Future interventions directed at the reduction of HIV transmission following diagnosis with AHI will need to find ways of making this information more salient, possibly through more culturally meaningful educational approaches.