What is HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system, the body's natural defense system. Without a strong immune system, the body has trouble fighting off disease. Both the virus and the infection it causes are called HIV.
White blood cells are an important part of the immune system. HIV invades and destroys certain white blood cells called CD4+ cells. If too many CD4 cells are destroyed, the body can no longer defend itself against infection.
The last stage of HIV infection is AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). People with AIDS have a low number of CD4+ cells and get infections or cancers that rarely occur in healthy people. These can be deadly.
If your child has HIV, it doesn't mean that he or she has AIDS. It takes a long time for HIV to progress to AIDS. If HIV is diagnosed before it becomes AIDS, medicines can slow or stop the damage to the immune system. Early treatment can help your child live a long and active life.
How do children get HIV?
Women who have HIV while they are pregnant can give it to their babies during their pregnancy or during delivery. They can also pass it on through breast milk. Older children and teens may be infected if they have unprotected sex or share infected needles.
When are children tested for HIV?
HIV infections get worse quickly in the very young. The sooner the doctor can diagnose HIV, the more quickly and aggressively he or she can treat the infection. Children who are at high risk of being infected with HIV are tested as early as possible. If the mother had HIV during her pregnancy and wasn't treated for it, her newborn may be given a blood test at birth. The doctor won't wait for symptoms to appear.
More tests will be given as the baby grows. The baby will be tested for HIV within 2 to 3 weeks of birth and again in the months to come. The baby will be considered free of HIV infection if there are no symptoms and he or she is tested for the presence of the HIV virus at about 1 month, 4 months, and 6 months and all test results are negative.
All children, regardless of age, who have an HIV-positive mother are tested for HIV whether they show symptoms or not. Children who go to the doctor with HIV-like symptoms are tested as part of their exam.
How is HIV treated in children?
The standard treatment for HIV is a combination of medicines called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART medicines slow the rate at which the virus multiplies. Taking these medicines can reduce the amount of virus in your child's body and help your child stay healthy. The ART medicines are available as powders and flavored syrups that you can mix with your child's food. When your child is old enough to take pills, he or she may take them 1 or 2 times a day, as directed by the doctor.