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HIV and Formula for Babies
Jun 16, 2004

I just read the information on this web site (http://www.thebody.com/gmhc/issues/feb02/breast_feeding.html) about the transmission of HIV to babies from their mothers through breastfeeding. In the article, they mention a study that was done in Kenya in which 20% of babies fed formula rather than breast milk became HIV positive!!! Am I missing something? Shouldn't that be 0%, since there should be no way that these babies could contract the virus from the formula. How are the 20% of the babies becoming HIV+?

Response from Dr. Lee

Because, in Kenya, mothers are pressured socially to breastfeed. In fact if they don't breastfeed, there are many questions asked (especially by their mothers-in-law, etc.). Therefore, in order to prevent these questions many mothers who participate in studies will surreptitiously breast feed their babies (and risk transmitting the virus)in order to "fit in" and not have to answer questions from snoopy relatives and neighbors. You are correct that the babies who only receive formula should not contract the virus. Hopefully with more education the social stigma of HIV will be reduced so mothers do not have to hide their condition.

Be well.


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