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New Drug Halves Risk of HIV Transmission During Breastfeeding

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March 10, 2011 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day—“a nationwide observance that encourages people to take action in the fight against HIV/AIDS and raise awareness of its impact on women and girls,” according to the womenshealth.gov website.

Coordinated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health (OWH), this day helps organizations across the country come together to offer support, encourage discussion, and teach women and girls about prevention of HIV, the importance of getting tested for HIV, and how to live with and manage HIV/AIDS.

And a new study conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, may have exciting news for breastfeeding mothers who are HIV positive.

A preliminary clinical trial found that giving breastfeeding infants of HIV-infected mothers a daily dose of the antiretroviral drug nevirapine for six months halved the risk of HIV transmission to the infants at the age of 6 months compared with giving infants the drug daily for six weeks.

The study was presented at the 18th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Boston on Thursday, March 3, 2011.
The study showed that the longer nevirapine regimen achieved a 75 percent reduction in HIV transmission risk through breast milk for the infants of HIV-infected mothers with higher T-cell counts who had not yet begun treatment for HIV.

These findings show that giving the infants of HIV-infected mothers an antiretroviral drug daily for the full duration of breastfeeding safely minimizes the threat of HIV transmission through breast milk while preserving the health benefits of extended breastfeeding.

The new findings apply to mothers and infants in developing nations, where safe and affordable formula for infants is not readily available. In the U.S., however, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended that HIV-infected mothers feed their babies with infant formula, not breast milk, because only total avoidance of breastfeeding will completely protect these infants from HIV transmission through breast milk.

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