HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), is a virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). A person may be “HIV positive” but not have AIDS. It is possible for an infected HIV person not to develop AIDS for 10 years or longer. A person who is HIV positive can transmit the virus to others when infected blood and other bodily fluids like vaginal fluids or semen or contact with broken skin or mucus membranes.
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A person infected with AIDS cannot combat the diseases because they are more susceptible to infections, certain cancers and other health problems that can be deadly.
About 15,000 children in the United States have been infected with HIV since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. About 90 percent of those were infected with the virus during pregnancy or birth.
A mother can pass on HIV to her child during pregnancy, labor, delivery or breastfeeding. When this happens, it is called perinatal transmission. Perinatal HIV transmission is the most common way children are infected with HIV.
Risk Factors For Transmitting HIV During Pregnancy
If a woman is infected with HIV, her risk of spreading the virus to her baby is reduced if she remains healthy. According to the March of Dimes, new treatments can reduce the risk of a treated mother passing HIV to her baby.
Factors which increase the risk of transmission include:
- Substance abuse
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Clinical stage of HIV
- Factors related to labor and childbirth
Can HIV/AIDS Affect My Pregnancy?
HIV will not pass through the placenta from mother to baby in most cases. If the mother is healthy, the placenta helps provide protection for the developing child. Factors that could reduce the protective ability of the placenta include in-uterine infections or HIV infection either in recent or advanced stage.
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Part of the prenatal care for HIV infected women should include special counseling about a healthy diet with attention given to preventing iron or vitamin deficiencies and weight loss as well as special interventions for sexually transmitted diseases.
Should pregnant women get tested for HIV?
HIV testing is for everyone, including women who are planning on becoming pregnant and who are pregnant. The woman’s partner should be tested too. All women of childbearing age who may have been exposed to HIV should be tested before becoming pregnant. Women who have not been tested before becoming pregnant should be offered psychotherapy and voluntary testing during pregnancy. HIV/AIDS testing can be conducted with a blood test.
What’s the chance that a baby will become HIV Positive?
A baby can become infected with HIV in the womb, during delivery or while being breastfed. A child will be infected if the mother does not receive treatment.
Will prenatal care be handled differently for those with HIV?
The best way for pregnant women with HIV infection to have a healthy pregnancy and delivery is a multi-care approach. This approach will address the medical, psychological, social and practical challenges of pregnancy with HIV. The woman’s pregnancy is being managed by a doctor and HIV specialist. Though she may also receive assistance from a social services agency to help her with child care, housing, food, and parenting concerns. This team effort will provide the best prenatal care plan for women infected with HIV.
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Will a baby need treatment after delivery?
The National Institutes of Health discovered that giving ZDV to an HIV-positive pregnant woman during her pregnancy and to her baby decreased the risk of passing the infection on to the baby by 66%. The baby should be treated with ZDV for the first six weeks of life. No significant side effects of the drug have been observed other than a mild anemia which may stop when the drug is halted. Studies show that the HIV-negative treated babies continued to grow and develop normally.
Can an HIV Positive mum Breastfeed?
A child born to an HIV-positive mother stands the chance of getting infected if they breastfeed for up to 24 months. However, the risk of transmission is dependent upon the breast health of the mother, the duration of breastfeeding, and nutritional status of the mother. The risk is greater if the mother becomes infected with HIV while she is breastfeeding.
Safe treatment for women with HIV during pregnancy
According to the United States Public Health Service, HIV-infected pregnant women are to be administered a combination treatment with HIV-fighting drugs to help protect her health and to help prevent the infection from passing to the unborn baby.
The first drug approved to treat HIV was Zidovudine, also known as ZDV, AZT and Retrovir®). Now it is used in combination with other anti-HIV drugs and is often used to prevent perinatal transmission of HIV. ZDV should be administered to HIV-infected women at the start of the second trimester and continue all through pregnancy, labor and delivery.