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Drug Regimen Prevents AIDS Transmission Via Breast Milk
Date:6/4/2008

But limiting the time a mother nurses doesn't protect the baby, study finds

WEDNESDAY, June 4 (HealthDay News) -- Each year, an estimated 200,000 babies worldwide are infected with the AIDS virus through their mother's breast milk. Now, a new study suggests that a short-term drug regimen could provide significant protection for infants.

"It is very practical, and these drugs are relatively cheap. We believe a large proportion [of infants] can be protected," said study co-author Dr. Taha E. Taha, co-director of the infectious disease program at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The problem of HIV transmission through breast milk is especially acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where mothers rarely use formula, Taha said, while it's not a significant problem in the United States.

The estimated 200,000 infants worldwide who get AIDS annually through breast milk make up a huge portion of the 500,000 new infections. (Babies can also get HIV about 10 percent of the time during gestation when a mother is infected, Taha said.)

One solution would be to discourage breast-feeding, but a number of challenges would make it difficult to replace breast-feeding with formula in parts of Africa, Taha said. Among other hurdles, the lack of clean water would make it impossible to sanitize bottles used for formula, he said.

Assuming that breast-feeding is unlikely to decline, Taha and his colleagues tested three drug regimens designed to prevent HIV transmission through breast milk. They tested the regimens on 3,016 infants in the African country of Malawi.

One regimen, known as the control group, included a single dose of the AIDS drug nevirapine (Viramune) plus one week of treatment with the drug zidovudine (AZT or Retrovir). The other regimens added daily doses of nevirapine or nevirapine as well as zidovudine until the age of 14 weeks.

The infants who took the control
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