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.
Doctors follow certain guidelines in deciding when to start giving ART medicines to children with HIV:1
- Infants younger than 12 months old should start treatment as soon as they are diagnosed.
- Children between 1 and 3 years old should start ART if they have CD4+ counts less than 1000 or CD4+ levels less than 25%.
- Children from 3 years up to 5 years old should start ART if they have CD4+ counts less than 750 or CD4+ levels less than 25%.
- Children 5 years old and older should start ART if they have CD4+ counts of 500 or less.
- Pregnant teenagers should begin ART whether they have symptoms or not.
Your child will need to take ART medicines for the rest of his or her life. It's important for your child to take the medicines exactly as the doctor prescribes them, with no skipped doses. If the medicines aren't taken as prescribed, the HIV virus can become drug-resistant and make the infection harder to treat.
Staying with a strict treatment program can be difficult. It helps to associate taking the medicine with your child's daily routine. For example, have your child take the medicine with breakfast or before brushing his or her teeth. You can also put the week's pills in a pillbox and post reminders on calendars, use sticky notes, and set cell phone alarms.
What's ahead for a child with HIV?
Children who take their ART medicines as directed have a good chance of living a long, healthy life. Your child can go to school and take part in sports and other activities. You can help by making sure that your child takes his or her medicine, eats nutritious food, gets plenty of exercise, and has all immunizations on schedule.