Frequently Asked Questions About HIV and Pregnancy

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What is Perinatal Transmission of HIV infection?
How likely is a mother to transmit HIV to her baby?
How many children have gotten HIV through perinatal transmission?
How do you diagnose HIV in children?
What are symptoms of HIV/AIDS in children?
Is there treatment for infected infants?
What can be done to prevent perinatal transmission of HIV?
Where can a person get tested for HIV?

What is Perinatal Transmission of HIV infection?
Perinatal HIV transmission happens when an HIV infected mother passes HIV to her baby. It can happen during pregnancy, delivery, and through breastfeeding.

How likely is a mother to transmit HIV to her baby?
Without treatment 25 to 30 percent of babies born to HIV+ mothers will get HIV. However, if mothers are aware of their HIV infection and treated along with their infants, the chances of the infant becoming infected with HIV are only 1 to 2.

In Minnesota, the rate of mother-to-child transmission decreased with the availability of testing and treatment for pregnant women and their babies. During 1982-1994 the transmission rate was 25%, but has since decreased to less than 1% among babies born in 2003-2005.

How many children have gotten HIV through perinatal transmission?
In the U.S., through December 31, 2004, 8,779 cases of mother-to-child transmission have been reported. In Minnesota, a total of 11 infants have acquired HIV perinatally since 1996.

How do you diagnose HIV in children?
HIV infection can be diagnosed in most infants by 1 month of age, and in all infants by 6 months using special viral diagnostic tests. These tests look for the HIV virus produced by the body instead of antibodies to the virus; most adults are diagnosed using an antibody test. Because newborns have some of their mother’s antibodies to HIV in their blood for a time, the special tests need to be used.

What are symptoms of HIV/AIDS in children?
HIV-infected children frequently are slow to reach important developmental milestones such as crawling, walking and speaking. Many do not gain weight or grow normally.

Like adults with HIV infection, children with HIV develop life-threatening opportunistic infections. The type of infections is different for children and adults, with serious bacterial infections occurring more often among children.

Is there treatment for infected infants?
Yes. Infants can be treated using HIV antiretroviral drugs. While these drugs will not cure HIV, they will slow down HIV and prolong a person’s life. Children with HIV should see their doctor regularly to make sure they are receiving the proper medications and vaccines against other diseases.

What can be done to prevent perinatal transmission of HIV?
Perinatal transmission of HIV can almost always be prevented with proper medical care. Therefore all pregnant women should get tested for HIV and share the test results with their prenatal care provider. If a woman has not received prenatal care she should request a rapid HIV test at delivery. Providing the proper medication to HIV+ mothers and their newborn babies will cut the risk of transmitting HIV to the baby from 25% to 2% or less.

Where can a person get tested for HIV?
You can get tested for HIV at your doctor’s office or clinic. HIV testing is also available at publicly funded testing sites. For a list of these sites call the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) at 651-201-5414, or visit the MDH website at MDH HIV testing web site.


Sources: “Cases of HIV infection and AIDS in the United States, 2004 (HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report, Vol.16), CDC, 2005, “Status of Perinatal HIV Prevention: U.S. Declines Continue”, CDC, November 1999, “Backgrounder – HIV Infection in Infants and Children” – NIHA, February 2000, “Recommendations for Use of Antiretroviral Drugs in Pregnant HIV-1-Infected Women for Maternal Health and Interventions To Reduce Perinatal HIV-1 Transmission in the United States”, MMWR 2002;51(No. RR-18), CDC.

Originally published in April 2004, updated: September 2006. 

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Updated Monday, May 19, 2014 at 09:14AM