Healthcare News & Insights

Keeping HIV transmission rates low for new moms & babies

Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day, designed to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS. And since the day was first created in 1988, hospitals have come a long way with preventing the transmission of HIV between new mothers and their babies. Red ribbon

Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) show how much progress has been made over the past two decades to stop the spread of pediatric HIV.

Because of extensive prevention efforts, there’s been an over 90% decline in the number of babies who are infected with HIV via perinatal transmission, which occurs during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding.

Most children who have HIV or AIDS contract the illness from perinatal transmission, so lowering these rates is important to keep the illness under control.

In 1991, over 1,600 babies were born with HIV, according to the CDC. Fewer than 200 were born this year. Much of this improvement is due to better testing and awareness campaigns over the years.

Hospital’s successful deliveries

Several hospitals have also gone the extra mile to make sure pregnant mothers who have HIV don’t pass the illness along to their children. One such facility is Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital in Long Beach, CA.

According to an article in the Long Beach Press Telegram, the hospital just celebrated its 20th year of helping mothers avoid perinatal transmission of HIV at the Bickerstaff Pediatric Family Center, which is where the hospital treats babies, youths and pregnant women with HIV, AIDS and other immune disorders.

During this time, over 200 babies were born to HIV-positive mothers at the hospital. All were delivered virus-free.

Over the years, the hospital has refined its process for treating mothers who test positive for HIV. Following CDC standards closely is key to its strategy. Per the CDC, if a pregnant woman with HIV starts the correct course of treatment by her third trimester, she has a less than 1% chance of passing the virus along to her child.

Without the proper course of treatment, the transmission rate jumps to 25% – and it can be even higher, depending on various circumstances.

The standard treatment involves a series of three anti-retroviral medications. The goal is to reduce the level of the virus in the mother’s blood, which decreases the risk it’ll infect the baby. Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital has followed the protocol for decades, and it’s paid off for mothers and their babies.

Even after a baby is born without HIV, patients must follow specific guidelines to reduce the risk of transmission after birth. Besides avoiding breastfeeding, the newborn must be given HIV mediations for six weeks. Babies will be tested continually for more than a year, and they may need to take more medicine as a precaution. So far, this approach has worked well.

Making more progress

All hospitals across the country should be striving for such high success rates with preventing perinatal HIV transmission. One way to move in the right direction: Increase the rates at which expectant mothers are tested for the virus.

The CDC recommends that expectant mothers should be tested for HIV as soon as possible during their pregnancies. Through the agency’s One Test. Two Lives campaign, the CDC hopes to eliminate some of the stigma surrounding testing and encourage pregnant women to be aware of their HIV status early on.

Ultimately, early detection is the best way for hospitals and other healthcare providers to take the appropriate precautions to keep the virus from spreading to newborns.

And to keep mothers with HIV and their babies healthy both during and after pregnancy, clinicians can also direct them to local support groups and online resources (such as the HIV and AIDS-focused website TheBody.com).

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