HIV/AIDS and Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

Human immunodeficiency virus is a virus that attacks the immune system. It can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

If you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you must know about HIV and AIDS. In the United States, 1 in 4 people living with HIV does not know they have it. This means that many people who are infected with HIV may not get the care they need. If you are pregnant and have HIV, it is important to see a doctor right away so you can get the care you need.

What is HIV?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. The immune system helps the body fight off infections and diseases. HIV damages the immune system and makes it harder for the body to fight off infections and diseases. HIV can lead to AIDS.

What is AIDS?

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a serious, life-threatening illness caused by HIV. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. People with AIDS have such badly damaged immune systems that they get very sick with infections and diseases, and they can die.

What causes HIV?

HIV is caused by a retrovirus. The virus is passed from person to person through blood, sexual fluids, or breast milk. People can get HIV by:

  • Sexual contact (vaginal, anal, or oral) with someone who has HIV.
  • Sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs with someone who has HIV.
  • Transplacental transmission.
  • Being born to a mother who has HIV.
  • Through breast milk.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

The symptoms of HIV can be different for each person. Some people don’t have any symptoms at all for many years. Other people may have symptoms within a few weeks or months after they are infected.

The first symptoms of HIV are often a flu-like illness that occurs two to four weeks after infection. These symptoms can last for a week or two and then go away. They may come back again later. The first symptoms of HIV include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Rash
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

How is HIV diagnosed?

HIV is diagnosed with a blood test. The test looks for antibodies to HIV. The enzyme immunoassay is used as a screening test for HIV antibodies. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body’s immune system to fight infections. It can take three to six months for the body to make enough antibodies for the test to be positive. This is called the window period.

How is HIV treated?

There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments that can keep it under control. The goal of treatment is to:

  • Reduce the amount of virus in your body.
  • Strengthen your immune system.
  • Help you stay healthy and prevent infections.

Treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART involves taking a combination of drugs (called antiretrovirals) that attack the virus in different ways. ART can’t cure HIV, but it can prolong your life and delay the onset of AIDS.

Antiretroviral medicines include Zidovudine (AZT), Lamivudine (Epivir), and Nevirapine (Viramune). These medicines are used in combination with other antiretrovirals.

HIV treatments can have side effects. The most common side effects are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches. These side effects usually go away after a few weeks. Some people have more serious side effects, such as liver damage.

You will need to see your doctor regularly so he or she can check your viral load and your CD count. The viral load is the amount of HIV in your blood. The CD-count is the number of white blood cells that fight infection.

You will also need to have regular blood tests and checkups with your dentist and eye doctor. HIV can cause problems with your teeth, gums, and eyes.

If you are pregnant, you will need to be treated for HIV to reduce the risk of transmission to your baby.

What are the possible complications of HIV?

If you have HIV and don’t get treatment, the virus will damage your immune system and you will develop AIDS. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. People with AIDS have a weakened immune system and are at risk for opportunistic infections, which are infections that occur because the body can’t fight them off.

People with AIDS often get pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other respiratory infections. They may also get fungal infections, such as candidiasis (thrush) and cryptococcosis. People with AIDS may also develop Kaposi’s sarcoma, a type of cancer that causes purple spots on the skin.

How can I prevent getting HIV?

The only sure way to prevent getting HIV is to abstain from sexual activity or to be in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. Abstaining from a sexual activity means not having vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

If you are sexually active, you can reduce your risk of getting HIV by:

  • Use a latex condom every time you have sex.
  • Limiting your number of sexual partners.
  • Avoid sexual contact with people who have HIV or whose HIV status is unknown.
  • Getting tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections.

Can HIV be passed from mother to child?

Yes. If a woman has HIV, she can pass the virus to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. This is called mother-to-child transmission or vertical transmission. In the United States, about 600 children are born with HIV each year.

What can I do to prevent my child from getting HIV?

If you are pregnant and have HIV, there are things you can do to help prevent your child from getting HIV.

You should start taking HIV medications as soon as you find out you are pregnant.

  • You should also have a C-section (cesarean delivery) instead of a vaginal delivery.
  • You should not breastfeed your child if you have HIV.

If you take HIV medicine and have a C-section, the chance of your child getting HIV is very low.

How can I get help if I think I might have HIV?

If you think you might have HIV, it is important to get tested right away. You can get tested at your doctor’s office, a community health center, or a family planning clinic.

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