BOSTON — The use of antiretroviral drugs by mother or baby for several months after delivery can significantly reduce the risk of transmitting the AIDS virus during breast-feeding, researchers reported this week.
Public health officials have had great success blocking HIV transmission to newborns using the drugs AZT and nevirapine about the time of delivery, but they have had few tools to prevent transmission through breast-feeding.
"Breast-feeding is the final frontier of preventing mother-to-child transmission," said Dr. Jeffrey Stringer, who directs the Center for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia and was not involved in the studies.
The research, presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston, found that the typical 15% infection rate from breast-feeding could be cut about in half by administering AIDS drugs for a longer period.
One study based in Malawi found that 8% of infants who received an initial drug treatment about the time of delivery plus 14 more weeks of AIDS medications were infected with HIV after nine months, compared with about 13% of the group receiving only the initial treatment.
In a separate study led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV-infected mothers in Kenya received a triple-drug regimen for about six months. About 6% of the breast-fed infants had the virus after a year.
U.S. mothers infected with HIV are typically told to use formula, but formula-feeding is difficult in some nations because of cost and a lack of clean water. The World Health Organization recommends that when breast-feeding cannot be avoided, HIV-infected mothers should wean their children after six months.