HIV Effects on Pregnancy
By Satya Vasan
Introduction to HIV
HIV, formally known as the human immunodeficiency virus, is spread through contact with bodily fluids such as blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. This happens most commonly during unprotected sex or the sharing of injections. HIV is dangerous because it can lead to the development of AIDs, formally known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS is the most serious stage of HIV and indicates that the number of CD4 cells, infection fighting white cells, has decreased so much that the body is unable to fight off infections that it normally could.
Effect on Pregnancy
Now that we have a general overview on what HIV is, we will be looking at the effects this virus can have on the child. In broad terms, pregnant mothers can pass on HIV to their child. According to the Minnesota Board of Health, without proper treatment for HIV the transmission rate from mother to child is 25%; compared with a mere 2% transmission rate if the mother is properly treated for HIV (“Perinatal Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission”, n.d.).This makes HIV awareness very crucial for past and present generations. Additionally, HIV can be transmitted to a child during childbirth, breastfeeding and pregnancy. HIV can be transmitted during childbirth when the child comes into contact with the mother’s bodily fluids while exiting the vagina. One important fact is that when your amniotic sack breaks, the risk of transmission increases. Also, HIV can be transmitted during pregnancy because HIV can pass through the placenta to the fetus. HIV can be transmitted through breastfeeding because HIV can spread to breast milk. (“HIV and Pregnancy, n.d.). This is why mothers who have HIV are not encouraged to breastfeed their child!
HIV Effects on Child
If children develop HIV, it is known to hinder their childhood milestones, such as walking and speaking. Other than this, HIV increases the chance of “opportunistic infections”. An opportunistic infection is simply one that infects people with HIV more oftenly and more seriously. Some opportunistic infections that infect these children are pneumocystis pneumonia, cytomegalovirus, lymphocytic interstitial pneumonitis, and oral thrush. Pneumocystis pneumonia is an infection caused by a fungus that primarily affects the lungs. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, and chills. This is one major death cause for people with HIV. (“Pneumocystis pneumonia”, n.d.). Cytomegalovirus is a virus that can be spread through contact with bodily fluids that can have serious consequences by infecting the eyes, lungs, liver and more. Lymphocytic interstitial pneumonitis is recognized as infiltration of the alveoli (Lee, n.d.). Oral thrush, a common infection for infants, is a fungal infection that can be very serious for children who HAVE weakened immune systems. One negative consequence being the causing fungi penetrating to the circulatory system and causing sepsis (Oral thrush: Causes, symptoms, and treatments, n.d.). For people without weakened immune systems, however, no major problems are seen.
Top HIV Tips
Ultimately, there are many useful tips to reduce the risk of your child getting HIV and developing these grave consequences. Firstly, you should get tested for HIV as soon as possible. Additionally, if you are at risk of getting HIV you should consult your primary care provider on certain preventive medications you can take. PrEP, which is one of these preventive measures, is a combination of two antiretroviral drugs and can reduce the risk of HIV infection by at most 92%. Lastly, if you are diagnosed with HIV- make sure to take the medication. According to HIV.org, if you give the HIV medication to your child about 6 weeks post birth, the transmission risk rate can be less than 1% (Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV, n.d.).
Overall, June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. This article gave an introduction into HIV and how and why the transmission from mother to child is quite serious. The overall takeaway is that HIV transmission from mother to child CAN cause weakened immune systems which bring forth opportunistic infections like we discussed. HIV awareness is a very important topic, do the right thing and get tested today!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, November 30). Pneumocystis pneumonia. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/pneumocystis-pneumonia/index.html#:~:text=Pneumocystis%20pneumonia%20(PCP)%20is%20a,to%20fight%20germs%20and%20sickness.
Content Source: CDC’s HIV BasicsDate last updated: February 26, 2021. (2021, February 26). Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV. HIV.gov. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/hiv-prevention/reducing-mother-to-child-risk/preventing-mother-to-child-transmission-of-hiv.
Lymphocytic Interstitial Pneumonia (Lymphoid Interstitial Pneumonitis) By Joyce Lee, By, Lee, J., & Last full review/revision Sep 2019| Content last modified Sep 2019. (n.d.). Lymphocytic Interstitial Pneumonia - Pulmonary Disorders. Merck Manuals Professional Edition. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/interstitial-lung-diseases/lymphocytic-interstitial-pneumonia.
MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Oral thrush: Causes, symptoms, and treatments. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/178864#oral_thrush_symptoms.
Perinatal (Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission) - Minnesota Dept. of Health. (n.d.). https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/hiv/prevention/perinatal.html.