There were a handful of clues that the Texas woman was seriously ill.
She came down with pneumonia in May 2014, and it was severe enough she had to be hospitalized, according to a criminal complaint. A month earlier, she had started losing “considerable” weight. And more and more frequently, the woman was coming down with illnesses of all kinds, she told Houston police.
But it wasn’t until a dentist discovered thrush in the woman’s mouth that she finally went to a doctor in September 2014 to get tested for HIV, the complaint said. The results were devastating: She was HIV positive.
Her diagnosis led doctors to ask the woman about her sexual partners. She said her only sexual partner was her boyfriend, Karim Zakikhani, who the woman had unprotected sex with at her Houston home as recently as August — just a month before her diagnosis.
Zakikhani, now 34, was sentenced to 30 years behind bars on Wednesday after he waived a jury trial and pleaded guilty to knowingly giving HIV to his former girlfriend, according to court records. The charge he pleaded guilty to — aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury — is a first-degree felony.
The couple began dating in September 2013 after becoming friends at a hospital where they both worked in security, KPRC reports. Fearing sexually transmitted diseases, the woman asked Zakikhani to get tested in December 2013 before they could have unprotected sex together. She agreed to get a medical exam at the time, too, according to the complaint.
The woman told Zakikhani that her results were negative. He told her the same, according to the complaint.
“I never asked for any paperwork," the woman told KPRC in 2016. "I just took his word for it, as he took mine."
So the couple stopped using protection, the woman told police. Within months, her weight loss and illnesses began, she said.
As the woman began HIV treatments, she got another shock: Her boyfriend had actually been married during their relationship. After tracking down his wife, the woman spoke to her and learned Zakikhani’s wife was also HIV positive — and Zakikhani had transmitted the virus to his wife years earlier, in 2009.
Worse still? Zakikhani’s wife confirmed that her husband had known he was HIV positive all along. Medical records revealed that Zakikhani was diagnosed with HIV in March 2008, according to the criminal complaint.
As she started getting sick, the woman said Zakikhani would even care for her and try to comfort her — knowing the entire time that he could have transmitted HIV to her.
“He's at the doctor's visit with me and he says, 'We'll find out what's wrong with you, babe. Everything is going to be OK,' ” the woman told KPRC.
Symptoms don’t always show up quickly in those who contract HIV, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But for anywhere from 40 to 90 percent of those who get the virus, flu-like symptoms can crop up within 2 to 4 weeks. That includes mouth ulcers, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, tiredness, fever, chills and more.
Still, it’s possible for someone to have HIV and not experience any symptoms for a decade or more, the health department said.
"He may have given me something that I'll live with lifelong physically, but he won't have me mentally for a lifetime," the woman said in court. "I won't be mentally imprisoned by this."
Zakikhani and the woman have a toddler together, the TV station reports. The woman said that after local news covered the story, even more women came forward to tell her Zakikhani had given them HIV, too.