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HIV and AIDS in Children

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An estimated 2.5 million children around the world are living with HIV/AIDs, according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (JNAIDS) "2010 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic."

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. In 2009, an estimated 370,000 children contracted HIV during the perinatal and breastfeeding period, down from 500,000 in 2001, according to the JNAIDS report.

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 10.

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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