In the United States, newborns are likely to be screened for HIV infection if their mothers were not tested when they were pregnant (see HIV Screening during Pregnancy). Human immunodeficiency virus is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). The infection can pass from an infected mother to her child during birth (when exposed in the birth canal to the mother’s secretions and blood) or during breastfeeding (when the infant drinks breast milk containing the virus).
More than 90% of all AIDS cases in children in the United States came from the mother during pregnancy. In 2005, about 142 children were infected with HIV from their mothers in this country, reported the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If a mother with HIV does not receive treatment during the pregnancy, the child has a 1 in 4 chance of getting AIDS. With timely treatment, fewer than 2% of children of infected mothers get the disease.
Thanks to aggressive screening and early intervention, the United States has seen a steady decline in new AIDS cases in children. The best way to protect the child’s health is to detect the HIV infection during pregnancy, treat the mother with medication, and make birthing plans to help the baby avoid infection. If the mother was not tested during pregnancy or childbirth, the newborn can be screened and treated shortly after birth. HIV testing has become routine prenatal care in this country; some states even require that all pregnant women or their newborns be tested.
- Screening the mother: All pregnant women in the United States should be counseled about HIV early in their pregnancy and receive voluntary HIV testing to protect the child’s health. This is the recommendation of many groups, including the U.S. Public Health Service, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
- Screening the baby: In the United States, if the mother’s HIV status is not determined before or during pregnancy or during labor and delivery, health care providers recommend that the newborn be given an HIV test (see FAQ #2 here) within 24 hours of the birth (in a few states, this is a requirement). Treatment begun within 48 hours of birth helps prevent a baby who was exposed to the virus from becoming infected.
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