'Increased HIV risk' to breastfed babies

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The Independent Online
THE RISK of HIV-infected mothers passing the virus to their babies through breastfeeding could be higher than previously thought, research published today indicates.

The findings of British researchers who reviewed nine published studies on mother-baby transmissions appears in tomorrow's edition of the Lancet medical journal. They found that in mothers infected with the virus before giving birth, the extra risk of transferring the infection to their babies through breastfeeding was 14 per cent.

This challenges the prevailing view that the risk of such transmission is minimal.

In mothers infected after the births of their babies, for example through blood transfusions, there was a 29 per cent risk of infecting the child through feeding.

David Dunn, lecturer at the Insitute of Child Health in London and one of the report's authors, said the findings strengthened the case for HIV screening of pregnant women in areas where there were significant numbers of cases of infection.

In developed countries, infected women would be advised to use alternatives to breast milk. But in less developed countries where safe alternatives might be less freely available, or in areas where the rate of infectious diseases was a common cause of death in childhood, the benefits to a baby's health of breastfeeding must be weighed against the risk of their becoming infected, he said.