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Antiretroviral Therapy May Prevent HIV Transmission From Breastfeeding Mothers To Infants

Two new studies support the hypothesis that combination antiretroviral drug therapy may reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission through breastfeeding, findings that could have significant implications in the developing world.

Researchers in the first study found mothers pass antiretroviral medications on to their breastfeeding infants in concentrations high enough to prevent infection. The second study showed levels of HIV RNA in breast milk are lower in mothers taking antiretroviral therapy than those who are not. Both studies appear in the September 1 issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, now available online.

Without antiretroviral therapy for an HIV-infected mother or her baby, transmission of HIV-1 through breast milk occurs in approximately 9 to 16 percent of breastfed infants. In the developing world, many HIV-infected mothers breastfeed rather than use formula due to the high cost of formula, lack of a safe water supply, and cultural norms.

Roger L. Shapiro, MD, MPH, of the Harvard School of Public Health, led the research in Botswana. In the first study, the researchers measured the concentrations of three antiretroviral drugs, nevirapine, lamivudine, and zidovudine, in the blood and breast milk of 20 HIV-infected women, and in the blood of their uninfected breastfeeding infants. All of the mothers had been receiving this combination of antiretroviral therapy continuously for at least six weeks prior to the start of the study, and all of the infants received a single dose of nevirapine and continuous zidovudine therapy after birth.

At either two or five months after delivery, all three drugs taken by the mothers were found in breast milk in concentrations similar to or higher than those found in the mothers' blood. In samples of the infants' blood, the investigators observed high, inhibitory concentrations of nevirapine that were above those thought necessary to protect against HIV infection. Dr. Shapiro and
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Source:Infectious Diseases Society of America


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