Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Infection in Children
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that affects the body's immune system. "Immunodeficiency" means the immune system is weak. The body is thus less able to defend itself from certain infections and cancers. That means someone with HIV is more likely to get sick with other infections and illnesses.
Young children who have HIV usually got the virus from their mother at birth
Doctors do blood tests to diagnose HIV
Without treatment, children with HIV can get AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome)
There's no cure for HIV, but medicines slow down the virus a lot
Children who get medicines for HIV (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) can live into adulthood
Mothers with HIV can usually prevent their babies from getting HIV by taking ART during pregnancy and birth and giving the baby ART medicine after birth
AIDS is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It's the most severe form of HIV infection. The immune system gets even weaker and can't fight off infections. People with AIDS can get unusual infections that almost never affect people without AIDS.
HIV infection is considered to be AIDS when:
Children who take their HIV medicine regularly almost never get AIDS.
Young children with HIV almost always got the virus from their HIV-infected mother before or during birth. Because the virus is in breast milk, breastfeeding can transmit the virus.
Older children and teens can be infected by:
Because blood donations are tested for HIV, almost no infections happen from blood transfusion in the US, Canada, or Western Europe.
HIV is not spread by:
Children with HIV infection seem healthy at first. As time goes on, they have more frequent and more severe common problems such as colds, ear infections, and diarrhea. Symptoms depend on whether the child is being treated with medicines for HIV. Medicines for HIV are called ART (antiretroviral therapy).
If children aren't treated with ART, they can have:
Slower growth and slower development (for example, not learning to walk or talk, or learning later than usual)
Swollen lymph nodes
Diarrhea that doesn't go away
Anemia (a low number of red blood cells)
Swelling of their spleen or liver
Frequent fungal infections of their mouth (thrush)
Children who don't get ART eventually develop AIDS.
If children are treated with ART, they can have:
Children with treated HIV infection can have long-term problems as they get older such as:
Doctors test the blood for HIV in babies and young children if their mother has HIV or is at risk of having HIV. Doctors recommend all pregnant women be tested for HIV.
Babies are tested at birth. But babies born to HIV-infected mothers need several more blood tests over the next 6 months just to be sure they don't have HIV.
Doctors treat children with HIV using:
ART always uses more than one medicine. Children with HIV usually take 3 different medicines. For older children, the medicines are sometimes combined into one pill. It is very important the medicine is taken regularly at the right time and in the right amount. If children take the medicine less often, the HIV can become resistant to the medicine. Resistant means the medicine will no longer work against the HIV. If the HIV becomes resistant to one medicine, doctors will try a different medicine.
Doctors do blood tests about every 3 to 4 months to measure:
These blood tests help the doctor know if treatment is working. Doctors also do tests to see if the virus is becoming resistant to medicines and to check for side effects of the medicines.
Almost all children with HIV should get their regular childhood vaccines.
Children with HIV should join in as many normal childhood activities as their health allows. It's very unlikely they could spread HIV to other children.
If you're pregnant and have HIV, you can lower the chance of spreading the infection to your baby by:
Taking ART (antiretroviral) pills, particularly during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters (last 6 months) of pregnancy
Continuing to take ART medicines regularly if you already take them
Getting specific ART medicine by IV during labor and delivery—this medicine is also given to your baby for 6 weeks after birth and lowers the chance your baby will get HIV
Having a C-section instead of a vaginal delivery, if you have a lot of HIV virus in your blood
Using formula instead of breast milk to feed your baby, unless you live if you live in a place where water isn't safe for making formula
Check to see if your child's day care center or school has a safety plan for cleaning up blood that includes:
These universal precautions should be used with all children since staff or parents may not know whether a child has HIV infection. These precautions should also be followed at home if any family member has HIV.