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Studies Tout Alternative HIV Regimens for Women, Babies
Date:10/14/2010

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 13 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that alternative drug regimens in poor countries could help HIV-infected mothers and their infants more effectively fight off the virus that causes AIDS.

Currently, doctors lower the risk of transmission of mother-to-baby HIV infection by giving a drug to mothers right before birth and to babies right after. About half of the babies avoid getting HIV, but mothers and babies who do get infected often develop resistance to the drug, which is typically given to them later in life.

Enter the alternatives. "We now have a very effective treatment for women who've taken a specific drug and for babies at risk," said Dr. Shahin Lockman, lead author of one of two studies about the regimens in the Oct. 14 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

There's a big hitch, however: the alternative regimens are much more expensive than the current drug regimen, although the study authors weren't able to give an estimate of the difference in costs between the regimens.

At stake are the lives of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of women who are infected with HIV, said Lockman, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

In many cases, HIV-positive women in poor countries -- such as those in Africa -- receive treatment with the inexpensive anti-HIV drug nevirapine shortly before they give birth. The idea is that the drug will reduce the risk that the baby will become infected with HIV during labor and delivery.

The problem is that in some cases, the AIDS virus develops resistance to the drug and the drug then doesn't work as well after an initial treatment. Even so, nevirapine is still used to treat both mothers and infected babies after birth.

Researchers have been looking for alternative treatments that have less risk of failing because the virus can escape the drug's effects. In the
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