So far people have reported five common symptoms that have not been reported by those who have tested HIV-positive: white tongue "fur," a lack of elasticity in the skin, excessive joint pains, muscle spasms, and a sensation of skin-crawling.
Early symptoms include light fever and coughing, followed by all kinds of different symptoms. According to Internet groups, many patients died within two to five years after the symptoms started to develop.
Since the discovery of this AIDS-like disease in 2000, no patient has been known to recover, they say.
The disease can be easily spread to the entire family, heightening the fear among those who suffer from the symptoms. Mostly young to middle-aged people have reported having symptoms and say their children have also developed similar symptoms as well. A child was reported to have contracted the disease while in the womb.
A commonly reported early symptom is the swelling of the lymph nodes. The lymphatic system is an important part of the immune system, and swollen lymph nodes can signify viral infection.
Fear First or Infection First?
In China, there is debate over whether “HIV-phobia” is a virus infection or a psychological problem.
Lin Feng’s case may shed some light on this question. In 2008, Lin’s mother received a blood transfusion during an operation on her stomach in a hospital in Shanghai. A few days after she got home, she had swollen lymph nodes and a lesion on her skin. Her joints become fragile and soft, while her whole body became enfeebled. After that, her physical state worsened dramatically.
One day, his mother cut the back of her hand on broken glass and he cut himself as well while cleaning. Afterwards, he exposed the cut to his mother's blood. Three days later, Lin began suffering symptoms similar to those of his mother.
“I went to the hospital for a checkup. They told me I have problems with my liver," Lin recalled. "Later they told me I have problems in my stomach.”
Because he could not get a diagnosis for his problem, he searched on the Internet and found “AIDS phobia” groups. “Patients’ words are stricken with desperation and grief," Lin said. “I told them not to worry or fear, as the disease will be identified. As a result, those patients thought I was sent by the CCDC and kicked me out of the group.”
Later, as his illness worsened and the Chinese medical community could do nothing about it, Lin also became fearful and desperate.
A retired army officer, using the Internet handle "Peace," claimed he hasn't had the flu for decades but said he experienced the AIDS-like symptoms recently.
"In 2009 at a party, a person who I know spit in my drink," he said. "After I got home, I discovered I had been infected. Then, symptoms appeared one after another. Within a few months, I unintentionally spread the virus to my entire family, relatives, colleagues, and friends. Many of them have high social status."
He added, “I went to the Ministry of Public Health to report the situation. They said to me that they had never heard of the disease. The National Disease Control Center told me that the disease should not be infectious. If so, why is there no report of it overseas, but only in China? Thus they consider the patients to have mental illness. The virus is spreading secretly and people have no intention of prevention.”
A person who wishes to remain anonymous revealed that between 2008 to 2009, an Internet group called “Harbor,” consisting of more than 240 AIDS-phobia patients, formed a tourist group to donate blood in big cities between Shenzhen and Shanghai. They attempted to spread the virus and increase the number of infected people so that the state would start to pay attention to the disease.
As these AIDS-phobia patients do not test positive for AIDS or any known infectious virus, they passed the blood test. Later, blood containing the unknown AIDS-phobia virus entered the blood supply. Lin Feng’s mother, who received infected blood in a blood transfusion at a hospital in Shanghai, spread the virus to her whole family, suggesting the Harbor movement has already had an impact.
Members of Harbor also wander around on busy streets. They spread the virus to all the prostitutes they meet. By 2009, many prostitutes in night clubs and on streets had become infected.
A woman in Shenzhen with Internet moniker “The End” said her whole family had died after being infected with the disease. Afterwards, she said, she had sex with men to infect them.
A lady named “Fear” from Xiang Fan City in Hubei Province is still infecting people. One of 50 people who participated in a CCDC examination admitted that he has donated blood in the past and spit in a colleague’s cup to spread the virus.
These patients keep their lives hidden from others. Besides discussing their individual symptoms with fellow patients, they would not let others know their situation, even relatives who have become infected by them. They say they are afraid of being discriminated against, hated, and abandoned.It is difficult to determine how large the group is because of the information blockade in China and the group’s tendency to self-isolate. Those who take part in Internet groups come from all parts of China and from all walks of life; the majority of them are still young.
“I’m trying every kind of medicine and taking notes. I am seeking a way out. When my day comes, this is what I can leave to my children, my family," Ping An said. "If there’s no cure for this disease, this could be a disaster for humankind."