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HIV & AIDS Health Center

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Timing Is Everything in Preventing HIV Spread From Mom to Baby

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The results suggest that when a woman receives the longer course of AZT during pregnancy, prolonged treatment of her baby may not have additional benefit, Catherine Peckham, MD and Marie-Louise Newell, MD, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study. On the other hand, if the mother has only been receiving AZT for a short time, longer treatment of the newborn might be helpful, they note.

This study might not be entirely relevant in the U.S. where most HIV patients receive a combination of drugs instead of just AZT, says Lynne Mofenson, MD, who is with the pediatric, adolescent, and maternal AIDS branch of the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Md.

And most American women infected with the virus start receiving treatment quite early just to preserve their own health, she tells WebMD. "But for women who came into treatment late, these results, combined with those of other trials, suggest that even if you don't start treatment until 36 weeks, there's a benefit to it. In that case, giving the baby the full course of treatment is really important." Most newborns in the U.S. are given AZT for the first six weeks of life, according to Handelsman. McIntosh doubts that the standard of care will be changed much anytime soon.

He says, "It's not going to be looked at in this country. If six weeks works, no one is going to ask, 'what can I get away with?'" However, if price, convenience, or side effects of AZT ever became treatment issues, that might change, he adds.

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