World AIDS Day 2017: Can pregnant women be infected with an HIV infection?

World AIDS Day 2017: Can pregnant women be infected with an HIV infection?
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Here is how you can prevent a transmission from mother-to-child if the mother gets an HIV infection during pregnancy.

Written by Debjani Arora |Updated : December 2, 2017 1:22 PM IST

It is highly unlikely for a pregnant woman to suffer from an HIV infection during pregnancy but the chances are still there. During pregnancy, a woman s sexual interest might dwindle or be at its peak due to a lot of hormonal changes happening in the body. But if the expectant mother indulges in unprotected sex during pregnancy, chances are she might be susceptible to an HIV infection while on the act. Alternatively, she can get the virus from her spouse or partner if he gets infected with the virus having unprotected sex.

When a woman is pregnant, she is not immune to an HIV infection. In fact, during pregnancy, since the immunity hits a low, the chances of contacting any kind of infection are high. An HIV infection can be acquired in two ways: through the exchange of bodily fluid like semen (or vaginal fluid in case of men) during an unprotected sex or through a blood transfusion that contains the virus. So if a pregnant woman receives HIV positive blood or is exposed to semen of the man who is HIV positive, she can get the virus even during pregnancy, says Dr Gauri Gore, consultant gynaecologist, Zen Hospital, Mumbai.

How can HIV infection be detected during pregnancy?

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A blood test will be needed to check if the pregnant woman is suffering from HIV. This can be done during the routine blood tests done during pregnancy where a mother is checked for various infections and other underlying health conditions. However, if the expectant mother has unprotected sex and fears getting an HIV infection it is advisable to talk to the doctor and do a blood test to check for the virus. Alternatively, the woman will have to go for PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) treatment where ART medications are given, which acts like the morning-after-pill for HIV. The antiretroviral drugs should be taken for 28 days to prevent the virus from multiplying. This method of prevention is generally effective but should start within 72 hours of having sex.

Will the baby be affected if the mother gets an HIV infection during pregnancy?

There are high chances of the baby getting infected with the virus if the mother is not treated for the HIV infection. So, if the mother is suspected to have contracted an infection or tests to be HIV positive during the pregnancy, ART medications should be started immediately to reduce her viral load so that the baby doesn t get infected with the same. The sooner the treatment is started the better. The treatment will help to reduce chances of the HIV virus transmission from the mother-to-child through the placenta.

Are there any other ways to save the child from getting infected with HIV?

After birth, the baby has to receive ART for at least six weeks to make sure that it doesn t suffer from the infection. Apart from that various other tests and monitoring are done to check if the baby has already acquired the virus. The mother is asked not to breastfeed the baby as she can pass the virus to the baby through breast milk.

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