You know, I’m not entirely sure why some of us use the word seroconvert.

I’ve been using since the 90s, though.

Technically, seroconversion isn’t exactly the same thing as infection. It’s a specific stage of the infection process.

A person can actually be exposed to HIV, and the virus can infect them to a degree, without the infection becoming permanent.

Seroconversion is the stage of infection that begins when HIV is released from infected lymph nodes in large quantities via massive dumps of HIV-infected CD4 cells.

This typically happens, if and when it does happen, about three or four days after exposure.

During the process of seroconversion, which takes anywhere from 11 days to 6 weeks, serum viral load skyrockets and the infected person will often experience the symptoms of acute HIV infection, otherwise known as seroconversion sickness.

The body’s immune system reaction is responsible for many of the symptoms like fever and swollen lymph nodes (when there are any symptoms, which is not guaranteed), while HIV itself is thought to produce some primary symptoms like rash.

After seroconversion is over, serum viral levels go way down. The HIV-positive person becomes much less infectious as they enter the chronic stage of HIV infection.

They are still infectious, of course, just not as highly infectious.

Later, during the end stages of chronic, untreated HIV infection, serum viral levels often shoot up to sky-high levels again.

So, given that basic sketch of the course of infection, I guess it makes sense to speak of seroconversion, because it means something pretty concrete.

It’s more specific than just saying infection. It conveys more information.

Naturally, it only does so for people who know what it means.

I mostly avoid using the term when I write articles about HIV prevention, testing, and treatment for the general public.

Sometimes, though, when I’m interacting with people I know are educated about HIV, I use it, both because I’m used to it as ordinary language or jargon, and because in some technical senses it really is more accurate.

Written by

Writer. Runner. Marine. Airman. Former LGBTQ and HIV activist. Former ActUpNY and Queer Nation. Polyglot. Middle-aged, uppity faggot.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store