Breastfeeding and Antiretrovirals Prevent HIV Infection in Babies of HIV-Positive Mothers

Breastfeeding a BabyAccording to a new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published as “Human Breast Milk and Antiretrovirals Dramatically Reduce Oral HIV-1 Transmission in BLT Humanized Mice” in the June 2012 issue of PLoS Pathogens, breast milk prevents the oral transmission of  HIV to babies with HIV-positive mothers when combined with antiretroviral medications.

Children currently account for 15% of new HIV infections. However, despite the prolonged and frequent exposure to the virus via breast milk, breastfeeding accounts for only 6.6 % (44% of the 15%) of new infections. Researchers therefore wanted to better understand the paradox between breastfeeding and HIV transmission.

After creating humanized mice, the researchers first exposed the mice to the virus through the breast milk from HIV-negative mothers. None of the mice acquired the disease, meaning that breast milk prevents the transmission of the virus. Second, to address the 6.6% of new cases caused by breast milk from HIV-positive mothers, the researchers gave the mice antiretrovirals for seven days, three days prior to exposure and four days after. None of the mice given the antiretroviral medications acquired the disease.

In other words, when combined with antiretrovirals, breast milk prevents the oral transmission of HIV to babies whose mothers are infected with the virus.

As J. Victor Garcia, PhD, of the University of North Carolina Center for Infectious Diseases and the University of North Carolina Center for AIDS Research, concludes:

“No child should ever be infected with HIV because it is breastfed. Breastfeeding provides critical nutrition and protection from other infections, especially where clean water for infant formula is scarce. Understanding how HIV is transmitted to infants and children despite the protective effects of milk will help us close this important door to the spread of AIDS.”

Mothers who are HIV-positive, especially mothers living in areas with unclean water where preparing formula would be more immediately dangerous, should continue to breastfeed. Oral HIV transmission can be prevented with breast milk and the simultaneous use of retroantivirals.


Breast milk kills HIV and blocks its oral transmission in humanized mouse:
Wahl, Angela, Michael D. Swanson, Tomonori Nochi, Rikke Olesen, Paul W. Denton, Morgan Chateau, & J. Victor Garcia. 2012. Human breast milk and antiretrovirals dramatically reduce oral HIV-1 transmission in BLT humanized mice. PLoS Pathogens 8(6). 1-13.

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Breastfeeding a Baby:

Baby Sign Language: Fingerspelling G, H, I

Baby Sign Language: Fingerspelling G, H, I

Baby Sign Language: Fingerspelling J, K, L

Baby Sign Language: Fingerspelling J, K, L