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AIDS Drugs May Help Breastfeeding Babies of HIV-Positive Mothers - 2004-10-08

A mother taking medications against the AIDS virus might pass on enough of the drugs through her milk to prevent passing the virus to her breastfeeding child. That's according to preliminary research presented at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Breastfeeding is generally the healthiest option for newborn children. But HIV-positive mothers can spread the virus to their babies through breast milk. Formula feeding is advised, but many women have no choice but to breast feed because clean water to mix formula is not available.

Harvard University's Dr. Roger Shapiro and his colleagues studied a group of HIV positive mothers in Botswana who were taking antiretroviral medications and breastfeeding. He says significant levels of the medications were found in the bloodstreams of their babies. "If this is true, then what we found is that you can get a two-for-one by treating the mothers and thereby getting good levels into the infants when they breastfeed."

Dr. Shapiro cautions that much more work needs to be done to determine if antiretrovirals in mothers' milk actually do prevent HIV infections in breastfeeding children. He also notes that the drugs have serious side effects that may be harmful to the children. For now, Dr. Shapiro advises HIV positive mothers to formula-feed their infants when safe water is available.