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Landmark study defines benefits of early HIV testing and treatment for infected infants
Date:11/19/2008

Testing very young babies for HIV and giving antiretroviral therapy (ART) immediately to those found infected with the virus dramatically prevents illness and death, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study found that giving ART to HIV-infected infants beginning at an average age of 7 weeks made them four times less likely to die in the next 48 weeks, compared with postponing ART until signs of illness or a weakened immune system appeared--the standard of care when the study began.

These findings come from the "Children with HIV Early Antiretroviral Therapy" (CHER) study, the first Phase III randomized clinical trial to study the best time to begin ART in infants. Launched in South Africa in July 2005, CHER is sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the departments of health of the Western Cape and Gauteng in South Africa.

"HIV devastates the nascent immune systems of infants very quickly, yet too many HIV-infected infants do not get tested for the virus, get tested too late or get tested but lack access to lifesaving antiretroviral drugs," says Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., the director of NIAID. "The results of CHER are a clarion call to scale up widespread early HIV testing of at-risk infants and to make ART immediately accessible to all infants who test positive."

Preliminary results of CHER, released in July 2007, showed that HIV-infected infants were four times less likely to die if given ART immediately after HIV diagnosis (http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/news/newsreleases/2007/cher.htm). This finding helped influence the World Health Organization (WHO) to change its guidelines for treating HIV-infected infants. The new guidelines, issued in April 2008, strongly recommend starting ART in children under age 1 immediately after HIV diagnosis,
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Contact: Laura Sivitz
sivitzl@niaid.nih.gov
301-402-1663
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Source:Eurekalert

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