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HIV and Pregnancy

What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus, in short, called as HIV is a virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). A person may be HIV positive but don’t have AIDS. A person with HIV can transmit the virus to others if infected blood, semen or vaginal fluids come in contact with broken skin or mucous membranes. A person infected with HIV may not develop AIDS for ten years or longer.

What are the risk factors of HIV during Pregnancy?

A woman infected with HIV can reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to the baby by staying as healthy as possible. Here are some factors which increase the risk of HIV transmission:

  •        Smoking
  •        Substance abuse
  •        Vitamin A deficiency
  •        Malnutrition
  •        Infections such as STD’s
  •        Breastfeeding
  •        Clinical stage of HIV, including viral load

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Should Pregnant women get tested for HIV? How is testing done?

Women who are planning their pregnancy or who are pregnant should be tested for HIV as soon as possible, and the woman’s partner should also be examined. A woman who has not been tested for HIV during pregnancy can be screened during labor and delivery with rapid tests. A blood test is done for the diagnosis of HIV/AIDS.

You can also do confidential testing with the use of a home testing kit called as Home Access HIV Test System which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

How can HIV/AIDS affect the pregnancy?

In most of the cases, HIV does not cross through the placenta from mother to the baby. The placenta provides protection for the developing infant if the mother is healthy in other aspects. Here are some factors which reduce the protective ability of the placenta:

  •        Uterine infections
  •        Recent HIV infection
  •        Advanced HIV infection
  •        Malnutrition

An HIV infected women should get special counselling about a healthy diet and attention should be given to preventing iron and vitamin deficiencies and weight loss. Gynecologist must also look for sexually transmitted diseases or other infections such as malaria, urinary tract infections, tuberculosis or respiratory infections.

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What are the chances of the newborn becoming HIV positive?

If a mother does not receive treatment, then there are chances that the virus will infect 25 percent of babies born to women with HIV. A baby can become infected with HIV in the womb, during delivery or while breastfeeding. If a woman has undergone an HIV treatment, then the percentage can be reduced to less than 2 percent.

How is Prenatal Care of HIV positive women handled?

A multi-care approach which addresses the medical, psychological, social and practical challenges of pregnancy with HIV is the most effective way for an HIV positive pregnant women to have a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

How does HIV affect Labor and Birth?

The risk of HIV transmission during the delivery is around 10-20 percent if no preventative steps are taken and the chance of transmission increases if the baby is exposed to HIV infected blood or fluids. Doctors should avoid performing amniotomies, episiotomies and other procedures that expose the baby to the mother’s blood.

Can a Mother Breastfeed if she is HIV positive?

There are chances that about 15% of newborns born to HIV positive mother may become infected by HIV if they breastfeed for 24 months or longer. The risk of transmission depends on:

  •        Whether the mother breastfeeds exclusively
  •        breastfeeding duration
  •        The health of mother's breast
  •        the nutritional and immune status of the mother

The risk is much higher if the mother becomes infected with HIV while she is breastfeeding.

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