HIV/AIDS And Pregnancy

February 23, 2010

The Sobering Reality Of HIV/AIDS

Once associated with a specific segment of the population, HIV/AIDS has become a world-wide illness that is not only a sexually transmitted disease, but one that can be passed through blood or blood products. A woman infected with human immunodeficiency virus can pass it on to her baby during pregnancy, delivery, or through breastfeeding.

Close to 200,000 women in the United States have been living with the virus, some without even knowing they have it. Of these women, 80 percent are in the age bracket associated with the childbearing years. Since 1985, in the United States alone, more than 10,000 children have contracted the virus and close to half of them have died from AIDS. More than 90 percent of these children got the disease from their mothers, either during pregnancy or at birth.

While these numbers are sobering, the advent of medications designed to treat and arrest HIV/AIDS have proven to greatly reduce the incidence of mothers passing the virus on to their babies and the numbers of cases have dropped significantly.

Prenatal Screening Helps Control Risks

As a result of the profound impact HIV/AIDS has made in the world, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has suggested that medical providers screen all pregnant women for HIV. This has been implemented and, unless a woman declines the test or informed consent is required for the test, it is now part of all prenatal screening in the US. Prenatal screening usually happens in the first few weeks of pregnancy, and the CDC has recommended that additional testing be done in the third trimester for women who are at higher risk for HIV. If a woman is found to have HIV, there are treatments available to her to help protect her unborn baby.

Pregnancy And HIV

Most women who become infected with HIV do so through unprotected intercourse with an infected male partner. Approximately 75 percent of women infected with HIV contract the virus through heterosexual intercourse and 20 percent are infected through the use of shared injection needles. A small number of women are infected through blood transfusions or by receiving blood products that are contaminated with the virus.

If a woman discovers she has HIV and is in the early weeks of her pregnancy, evaluation and treatment should be done. It is possible to postpone treatment until the second trimester to avoid exposing the unborn baby to heavy drugs early in the pregnancy. Some of the drugs used in treatment of HIV are known to pose significant risk to the baby. If a woman is already taking drug treatment for HIV she should continue with the program and her doctor will make whatever adjustments to the regime deemed necessary to keep protection in place for both mother and baby with the least risk to the baby.

Other Possibilities

There are studies that indicate that a mother can avoid passing HIV to her unborn baby by having a caesarean section before she goes into labor and before her membranes have ruptured. If a woman is in labor, then there are medications that can be given to reduce the impact of the virus on the baby.

There are answers for women with HIV who are pregnant. However, the risk remains and it is important for her to receive treatment and counsel before birthing her baby to determine the best course of action.

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