When a person first contracts HIV, they often develop a rash on the upper body, face, or soles of the feet. But this rash can appear anywhere, even on the penis. It can be itchy and look like a flat red or purple patch with small bumps.

Rashes associated with an acute HIV infction tend to appear most often on the upper areas of the body, but sometimes, they may appear on the penis.

This article explains how to identify an HIV rash in that area and when to consult a healthcare professional.

Male talking with a doctor about penis rash and HIVShare on Pinterest
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A person may experience a rash on the body as one of the first symptoms after contracting HIV.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), rashes typically show up during the acute stage of infection with HIV, which can occur 2 to 4 weeks after someone contracts the virus.

The rash may last 1 to 2 weeks as the body tries to fend off the infection. It can be painful or itchy. It appears red (on people who are light-skinned) or purple (on people with darker skin) and features bumps that are skin-colored, white, red, or purple. It can be painful and itchy.

Rashes generally occur with other flu-like symptoms caused by acute HIV, including:

Like the rash itself, these symptoms may clear up within about 2 weeks.

Rashes can also manifest in the later stages of HIV, caused by:

  • medication side effects
  • other infections

It is essential to know what a rash associated with acute HIV looks like because this allows someone who has never been diagnosed with the virus to get tested sooner. Without that awareness, they may mistake their rash for another type of skin condition (such as eczema).

Studies have found that at least 51% of people who contract HIV develop this rash.

When an HIV rash appears, it can be limited or spread over large areas of the body, even covering the penis. The rash consists of small round bumps that may be flat or raised. While they tend to be red on lighter skin, those with darker skin may see bumps that have no special color, or are white, red, or purple. In some cases, these look crusty or scab-like.

In some situations, those who contract HIV develop a rash and no other symptoms. In other cases, they develop ulcers in the mouth or esophagus. They may also develop lesions in and around the anus and on the penis. Sometimes, lymph nodes under their arms or in their neck swell up. This swelling can last much longer than a rash or other flu-like symptoms.

If HIV progresses without treatment, sometimes over many years, it can compromise a person’s immune system. As a result, some people may experience:

  • recurring infections that last a long time
  • weight loss
  • night sweats
  • chronic diarrhea
  • life threatening infections
  • skin issues

While a penile rash is not a classic sign of HIV, anyone who develops a rash on their penis should speak with a healthcare professional.

People who contract HIV may experience flu-like symptoms alongside a body rash.

Other reasons a person may develop a rash on the penis include:

  • balanitis, swelling of the penis tip (usually due to poor hygiene)
  • a yeast infection or other fungal infection
  • scabies, a contagious, itchy rash caused by mites
  • contact dermatitis or other allergic skin reaction

Certain sexually transmitted infections can also cause a rash. These may include:

Healthcare professionals will typically prescribe creams or ointments to treat rashes on the penis.
The cause of the rash will determine the one they choose. Sometimes treatment involves applying an ointment or changing home hygiene practices. Sometimes it requires antibiotics.

If a healthcare professional suspects a patient has contracted HIV, they will suggest that the person get tested for the virus. Several testing options are available, but blood tests remain the most accurate.

It’s important to know that HIV tests may not return evidence of infection for 10 to 90 days after someone contracts the virus (a phenomenon known as the “window period”). If someone feels certain they were exposed to HIV, they should get tested again after this period.

With HIV, early detection is the key to treatment. People who test positive and go on to treat their condition with HIV medications may find that the virus becomes undetectable and that their life expectancy and quality of life are similar to those without HIV.

Acute HIV infections may cause a widespread rash on the body. Sometimes this rash can also appear on the penis.

A rash associated with an acute HIV infection may occur alongside flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes. When these symptoms appear together, a person should seek medical attention.

Treating HIV immediately is the key to successfully managing its progression.