A mystery illness with HIV-like symptoms has been reported by hundreds of Chinese, but doctors believe it is just "HIV phobia" caused by guilt from having sex with prostitutes.
Many patients suspect they are being lied to when their HIV tests come back negative, even those who have had as many as seven tests, News.com.au reports.
Doctors are blaming breach of trust between the medical profession and patients due to past instances for the growing HIV phobia.
Some patients with symptoms are living in a self-imposed exile, avoiding family members and public places because they are afraid of spreading the disease.
There are dozens of Chinese internet chat rooms filled with people who believe they have the same mystery illness.
"I joined the chat room because I was sure I had been infected with this virus," one patient said.
He said he started to feel ill several months ago after a visit to a prostitute where he said he took precautions to avoid catching HIV.
"Twenty-four hours later I had a strong desire to vomit. I had headaches, I was dizzy, I could feel my internal organs were swelling up. I was in intense pain. This lasted months," he said.
He thought he was HIV positive several tests came back negative.
Unhappy with the response from Chinese medical authorities, the man has tried to bring his illness to the attention of the World Health Organisation and researchers overseas, but with little success.
Dr Cai Weiping, a senior Chinese HIV researcher based at the People's Number 8 hospital in the southern city of Guangdong, believes the problem is psychological rather than physical.
He suspects extreme guilt or anxiety about an act he and many others feel ashamed of - sex with a prostitute - is affecting his immune systems and making them feel ill.
"They think we are concealing an epidemic," he said.