Anti-HIV drug given to infants effectively counters virus in breastmilk

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A woman breastfeeds a baby during a mass event in Athens November 2, 2014. Reuters/Yorgos Karahalis

New research has shown that administering anti-AIDS medication directly to infants being breastfed by their mothers, who are HIV positive, greatly decreases their risk of contracting HIV. An anti-viral drug was given to a control group of infants being breastfed by their mothers for 12 months, out of which less than 1.5 percent caught the virus.

A research published in The Lancet has proven to be a one-of-its-kind study that assesses the efficacy in HIV prevention by transmission of the virus from mother to children by breastfeeding for over six months.

Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to increase rates of survival among infants, particularly in poor countries. However, it causes HIV/AIDS transmission from mothers to infants. These findings will have a role to play in the debate that pits the nutritional benefits of breastfeeding infants against the risk of transmission of the AIDS virus.

The authors on the study said, “This finding justifies the extension of infant pre-exposure prophylaxis until the end of HIV exposure through breastfeeding,” reports AFP. The findings highlighted “the need to inform mothers about the persistent risk of transmission throughout breastfeeding to prevent them stopping giving the treatment to their babies too soon.”

The research involved about 1,200 children in Zambia, South Africa, Uganda and Burkina Faso. It was found that transmission risk remained high at around 2.4 percent over 12 months of breastfeeding when the antiretroviral (ARV) drugs were being taken by the mothers themselves. However, special ARV formulations for children, directly given to infants, showed a 1.5 percent risk of HIV/AIDS transmission.

A minimum of 12 months breastfeeding is recommended by the World Health Organisation for infants of HIV positive women, particularly in developing nations. It is seen that serious diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea can be avoided by providing the infants with the required nutrients, reports AFP.

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