Saving the Baby from Mommy's Sickness

Zidovudine helps prevent spread of HIV from mother to infant

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A new study has identified a new drug regimen that may reduce the risk of spreading HIV from an infected mother to her infant.

When a pregnant woman is diagnosed with HIV, there are certain drug treatments that can help to prevent transmitting the HIV infection to her child. However, if a pregnant woman goes undiagnosed until she goes into labor, her infant receives a treatment of the anti-HIV drug zidovudine immediately following birth.

Now, new research conducted at hospitals in Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, and the United States has discovered that adding one or two drugs to the standard zidovudine treatment may cut in half the risk that an infant will develop HIV infection.

For the study, Heather Watts, M.D., a medical officer in NICHD's Pediatric, Adolescent and Maternal AIDS Branch, and co-authors evaluated over 1,600 infants born to women who were not diagnosed with HIV until they began labor. Newborns were assigned to three different treatment groups. The first group received the established 6 week zidovudine treatment. The second group received a 6 week treatment of zidovudine in addition to three doses of nevirapine during the first week of life. The third group received the standard zidovudine treatment in addition to two weeks of lamivudine and nelfinavir.

The researchers found that the risk of transmitting the HIV infection was reduced by 50 percent among infants in the second and third groups (those receiving multiple drugs).

The best way to help prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child is for the mother to start antiretroviral treatment during pregnancy, says Dr. Watts. However, if a pregnant woman does not know she has HIV, or if antiretroviral treatment is not possible, the multi-drug treatments evaluated in this study appear to drastically reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

Of the estimated 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States, approximately one in five do not know they have the virus. Anywhere between 100 and 200 infants are born with HIV each year in the United States. Many of these infants are born to mothers who were either not tested or not treated during pregnancy. Estimates indicate that a mere 21 percent of pregnant women from low and middle income countries have been tested for HIV during pregnancy.

"In order to reduce the spread of HIV, it's important for all sexually active individuals to be tested for HIV, especially those who have engaged in unprotected sex" added Dr. Joseph V. Madia, dailyRx's medical editor.

This study comes from the National Institutes of Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 2, 2011
Last Updated:
March 3, 2011