Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission Nearly Eliminated in United States, Public Health Officials Say
Vertical HIV transmission, which led to the deaths of hundreds of U.S. infants annually 10 years ago, has been virtually eliminated in the United States, according to public health officials, the New York Times reports. In 1990, nearly 2,000 U.S. infants were born HIV-positive, but that number has been cut to approximately 200 annually today, health officials said. The "shar[p]" decline is due in large part to the availability of antiretroviral drugs that when given to HIV-positive pregnant women can greatly reduce their chances of passing on the virus to their fetuses and infants during pregnancy or delivery, according to the Times. In 1994, doctors began a study to determine if administering the antiretroviral drug azidothymidine, or AZT -- which is now known as zidovudine -- to a pregnant woman could reduce her viral load and therefore decrease her chance of passing on the virus to her infant. The study showed that women receiving AZT during pregnancy and delivery were 67% less likely to transmit the virus to their infants than HIV-positive women who were receiving a placebo. An HIV-positive pregnant woman who has received no antiretroviral drugs has a 20% to 25% chance of transmitting the virus to her infant, according to CDC. One year after AZT started being used to prevent vertical HIV transmission, the mother-to-child HIV transmission rate was 8%, according to Dr. Lynne Mofenson, chief of the Pediatric, Adolescent and Maternal AIDS Branch of NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Since then -- as a result of better antiretroviral drugs, "more rigorous" HIV testing, "aggressive" public health efforts and cooperation between federal and state health officials -- the risk of vertical HIV transmission has dropped even further in the United States, the Times reports. However, vertical HIV transmission continues to be a problem in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions hit hard by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. "We have had incredible progress," Mofenson said, adding, "But if you think about the U.S. ... and then you think about Africa, it is like a tale of two cities, a tale of two epidemics" (Santora, New York Times, 1/30).
CBS' "Evening News" on Sunday reported on public health officials' statements on the decline in mother-to-child HIV transmission in the United States. The segment includes comments from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Cobiella, "Evening News," CBS, 1/30). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.