Violari said HIV-infected babies are at higher risk of dying even if they show no symptoms of infection. And laboratory tests don't do a good job of predicting who will end up getting sick, Violari said.
"Young infants are very different than adults or even children in their immune function and in their susceptibility to other dangerous illnesses," Violari said. "That is why they need treatment immediately once diagnosed."
Early treatment not only combats HIV sooner, it has other positive effects, Violari said. "Early treatment protects the brain from HIV, so not only do they survive, but they are likely to have less developmental problems than other babies who didn't get early treatment," Violari said.
Still, early treatment isn't a cure for the epidemic of HIV among babies in developing countries. "It will be much easier to implement these findings in the West, where few babies are HIV infected," Violari said. "In many developing countries, many infants are not identified early enough or are identified too late or die before they even had an HIV test."
Learn more about HIV and children from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
SOURCES: Diana Gibb, M.D., professor of epidemiology, MRC Clinical Trials Unit, London, England; Avy Violari, F.C.Paed., director, pediatric clinical research, Perinatal HIV Research Unit, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; Nov. 20, 2008, New England Journal of Medicine
All rights reserved