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mother to child transmission
Oct 24, 2005

Dear Dr. Frascino, I am a health educator in local high schools. Recently, I have recieved several questions about how babies born to HIV positive mother's are born positive, but then "become" negative. The curruculum I use has a film called "Blood Lines" which is recent, but in the film a woman says "I had a baby who was born positive, but thankfully he's negative now". I find this difficult to explain to my students. Is this actually possible? Or, is she just confused? Could a person/child recieve a false negative equally as a false positive, or can a mother take ati-viral meds during a pregnancy to prevent the virus from entering the baby's body? What is the best advice to give young, impressionable students? I feel as though this portion of the film implies that HIV can just "go away".

Thank you very much!

Sincerely, Konika

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello Konika,

The confusing point here stems from the fact that HIV-positive moms can pass anti-HIV antibodies to their unborn children. These anti-HIV antibodies are proteins, not HIV itself, that can pass through the placenta from mom to fetus. These same anti-HIV antibodies are the basis for ELISA and other HIV-antibody diagnostic screening tests. Consequently, infants born with these maternally derived anti-HIV antibodies will "test HIV positive," even though they may not be HIV positive themselves. The test is merely picking up the mother's antibodies (now circulating in the baby's blood). Maternal anti-HIV antibodies may persist in an HIV-negative newborn infant for up to 18 months. Different HIV screening tests that don't involve HIV antibodies are used to help determine if the infant is HIV positive or not. This test is called an HIV DNA PCR test. You can learn more about mother-to-child HIV transmission from reviewing the information in the archives.

I'm delighted your high schools are addressing HIV/AIDS-related topics. They are critically important issues.

Dr. Bob


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