Antiretroviral drugs may prevent HIV transmission through breastfeeding
Several studies have shown that antiretroviral therapy can be effective at prolonging the life of an HIV-positive individual and preventing transmission of the virus. But researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, have discovered that it may also be helpful to HIV-positive mothers who want to breastfeed.
In a study of 2,300 mothers who had HIV and were breastfeeding, the researchers found antiretroviral medications taken by either the mom or the baby were effective at reducing the rate of transmission.
However, the study authors noted that mothers who weaned their babies early – before six months – were more likely to spread the virus to their children.
"Our 48-week follow-up of women in Malawi has shown that either infant or maternal prophylaxis [with antiretroviral therapy] effectively reduces postnatal HIV transmission and that this protective effect persists until after breastfeeding cessation," said first author Denise Jamieson, M.D., M.P.H. "However, transmission does occur after mothers report that they have weaned their infants."
Results of the study showed that infection rates were about 7 percent among control subjects, while moms who were either on antiretrovirals themselves of had babies who were on the medication had a 4 percent chance of mother-to-child transmission. Moms who said they began weaning their children at 28 weeks had a roughly 33 percent chance of transmitting the virus.
Authors of the study concluded that women in developing nations like Malawi, where food is often scarce, should breastfeed their babies and take antiretroviral medication.
HIV-positive women who are pregnant should be sure to consult with their healthcare provider about having a healthy pregnancy and baby, as well as the ways in which people can prevent the spread of the virus.