HIV Can Be Transmitted Through Pre-Chewed Food, Researchers Say
HIV can be transmitted to infants through food that is pre-chewed by an HIV-positive parent or caregiver, CDC researchers said Wednesday at the 15th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston, the New York Times reports. Specific findings from the study have not been released, the Times reports.
According to the Times, pre-chewing food most often occurs in developing countries, where commercially prepared infant food and blenders are not available and caregivers need to soften food before giving it to an infant. The practice is rare in the U.S. but does occur among several racial and ethnic groups, according to a CDC study on infant feeding. The virus is transmitted in blood in the saliva of HIV-positive people who have inflammations or sores in their mouths through cuts associated with teething in the infants' mouths (Altman, New York Times, 2/7). Previous studies have linked pre-chewing to the spread of other infections such as Helicobacter pylori, which causes stomach ailments, and streptococcal pharyngitis, which causes sore throats, the AP/Google.com reports (Strobbe, AP/Google.com, 2/6).
At the conference on Wednesday, CDC epidemiologist Kenneth Dominguez and colleagues from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the University of Miami said three cases of HIV transmitted through pre-chewing have been identified in the U.S. since 1993 (New York Times, 2/7). In at least two of the cases, the infants' mothers were HIV-positive and had bleeding gums or mouth sores while they were pre-chewing food for their children (AP/Google.com, 2/6). The researchers ruled out other possible transmission modes, such as blood transfusions or breastfeeding, in all three cases (Dunham, Reuters, 2/6). In two of the cases, genetic studies of the infants' viruses matched those of their mothers, according to the Times (New York Times, 2/7).
All three of the children were teething and had inflamed gums when they contracted the virus. According to the researchers, it might be necessary for both the caregiver who pre-chewed food and the child to have inflammation or open sores in the mouth for the virus to be transmitted (AP/Google.com, 2/6). The researchers said that pre-chewing as a mode of HIV transmission "warrants further investigation in order to continue reducing cases of HIV transmission in the U.S.," adding that the findings "could have more significant implications for developing countries." The researchers advised health care providers and HIV-positive caregivers to be aware of the risks of pre-chewing. They also advised caregivers living with HIV/AIDS to not pre-chew food for infants (Reuters, 2/6). The researchers also said that they reported the three cases in an effort to ask health care providers and family members to report suspected cases to officials to quantify the situation (New York Times, 2/7).
Kimberly Hagen of the Emory Center for AIDS Research said that programs in developing nations aimed at reducing pre-chewing among HIV-positive caregivers could be nutritionally harmful for infants. "This would really take a lot of thinking before you could say, 'We've had three cases in 11 years, so you have to stop pre-chewing your child's food,'" Hagen said (AP/Google.com, 2/6).