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HIV & AIDS Health Center

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HIV and AIDS in Children

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An estimated 3.2 million children age 15 and under were living with AIDS at the end of 2013, according to the World Health Organization.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). The virus damages or destroys the cells of the immune system, leaving them unable to fight infections and certain cancers.

Causes of HIV in Children

Most HIV infections in children are passed from mother to child during pregnancy, labor and delivery, or breastfeeding. However, thanks to preventive treatment regimens, the incidence of mother-to-child HIV transmission is decreasing. Since the mid-1990s, HIV testing and preventive drug regimens have resulted in a 90% decline in the number of children infected with HIV in the U.S. Most cases of childhood HIV/AIDS are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa.

Other causes of child HIV include:

Blood transfusions.Blood transfusions using infected blood or injections with unsterilized needles can lead to HIV infection and AIDS in children. In the U.S. and other wealthier countries this problem has been virtually eliminated, but in poor countries this still occurs.

Illicit drug use. In central and Eastern Europe, injected drug use continues to spread HIV among young people living on the streets. In one study in the Ukraine, high-risk behaviors, including sharing needles, were prevalent among children as young as age10.

Sexual transmission. Although sexual transmission is not a main cause of HIV/AIDS among children, it does occur in countries where children become sexually active at an early age. Children may also become infected through sexual abuse or rape.

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