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Antiretrovirals During Breast-Feeding Shield Babies From HIV, Study Shows
Date:6/16/2010

In sub-Saharan Africa, many avoid formula due to unsanitary water, expense, experts note

WEDNESDAY, June 16 (HealthDay News) -- In sub-Saharan Africa, many mothers with HIV are faced with an awful choice: breast-feed their babies and risk infecting them or use formula, which is often out of reach because of cost or can sicken the baby due to a lack of clean drinking water.

Now, two new studies find that giving pregnant and nursing women triple antiretroviral drug therapy, or treating breast-fed infants with an antiretroviral medication, can dramatically cut transmission rates, enabling moms to both breast-feed and to protect nearly all children from infection.

In one study, a combination antiretroviral drug therapy given to pregnant and breast-feeding women in Botswana kept all but 1 percent of babies from contracting the infection during six months of breast-feeding.

Without the drug therapy, about 25 percent of babies would become infected with the AIDS-causing virus, according to researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health.

A second study, led by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that giving babies an antiretroviral drug once a day during their first six months of life reduced the transmission rate to 1.7 percent.

Both studies are published in the June 17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

In the United States, HIV-positive women are typically given antiretrovirals during pregnancy to avoid passing HIV to their babies in utero or during labor and delivery. After the baby is born, women are advised to use formula instead of breast-feeding for the same reason, said senior study author Dr. Charles M. van der Horst, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

That works well in developed nations where formula is easy to come by and a clean water supply i
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