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HIV & AIDS Health Center

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Big Strides in Battle Against Pediatric AIDS

Advances help lower transmission rate in U.S., but it's a different story in developing nations

continued...

Though touted by some as a cure for HIV, the researchers remain cautious. At least in part, that could be because HIV doesn't act in the same way in every person, Bates explained.

"Some people have the ability to fight off the virus even without any medication, and that's a positive thing for those people and we're really looking at those people to get an idea of how we might be able to better target the virus," she said. "When we get to the point where there's a cure for HIV, I think it will be like the polio vaccine. It will still exist in some places, but it will be exceedingly rare."

In the meantime, one nearly surefire way to prevent new infections in children is to get expectant mothers who are HIV-positive on antiretroviral therapy.

"The ideal situation is for someone who knows she's HIV-positive, who has planned her pregnancy, to decrease her viral load as low as possible without medications that we don't recommend in pregnancy," said Dr. Geralyn O'Reilly, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

"Unfortunately, we have a lot of patients who get diagnosed with their first prenatal blood draw," she said. "As soon as we can, we get them on antiretroviral therapy, which helps tremendously to keep the transmission rates down."

Depending on how well the medication reduces a woman's viral load, she may be able to give birth vaginally. If the viral load is too high, a cesarean birth is scheduled because that further reduces the chance of transmitting the virus.

"It's never too late," O'Reilly said. "Even if a woman had no prenatal care, there are ways we can try to prevent transmission of HIV."

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