Sexual Transmitted Diseases

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Pregnancy

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is classified as a retrovirus, a virus that carries RNA as its genetic material. It employs an enzyme known as reverse transcriptase to convert its RNA into DNA once it infiltrates a host cell. This newly generated viral DNA becomes integrated into the host’s genetic material, allowing for replication and the production of additional virus particles.

HIV primarily targets immune system cells, particularly CD4+ T cells, leading to immune system impairment. In adults infected with HIV, a spectrum of symptoms may manifest, including flu-like indicators such as fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes. If left untreated, HIV can progress to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), resulting in more severe health issues.

HIV shares common modes of transmission with other STI organisms. It can be transmitted from an infected mother to her newborn during childbirth, through breastfeeding, or during pregnancy. Newborns who acquire the virus may exhibit symptoms like failure to thrive with difficulty gaining weight or growing at a normal rate, recurring infections, including respiratory infections, ear infections, and gastrointestinal issues, and developmental delays, both physical and cognitive.

Nevertheless, with appropriate medical care and precautions, HIV-infected individuals can still give birth to healthy babies. Key steps and interventions for ensuring a healthy pregnancy include:

  • The prescription of antiretroviral medications for HIV-positive individuals during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum to reduce viral load and prevent transmission to the baby.
  • Regular prenatal care, including the monitoring of viral load and CD4 cell counts, to enable healthcare providers to make treatment adjustments as needed for the well-being of the mother and the baby.
  • In some cases, a scheduled cesarean section may be recommended to reduce the risk of HIV transmission during childbirth, with the decision contingent on the mother’s viral load and other factors.
  • HIV-positive mothers are advised not to breastfeed, as HIV can be transmitted through breast milk. Instead, safe and appropriate alternatives for infant feeding are suggested to avoid transmission to the newborn. Promoting education, awareness, and access to testing and treatment are pivotal for protecting both adults and newborns from HIV.
  • After birth, the infant may receive antiretroviral prophylactic medications to decrease the risk of transmission.

By adhering to these guidelines and working closely with healthcare providers, HIV-positive pregnant people can significantly minimize the risk of HIV transmission from mother to baby, thereby ensuring the best possible outcome for both.


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Human Reproduction: A Clinical Approach Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Hala Bastawros, M.D is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.