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Care and Treatment for HIV-Positive Children

October 2010

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Table of Contents

The Good News

Every parent wants his or her child to be healthy and safe. When your child is HIV+, there are some extra steps to take to make sure that he or she gets the right care. The good news is that HIV+ children, just like HIV+ adults, are living longer, healthier lives with improved treatments.


HIV in Children

HIV is somewhat different in children than in adults. HIV+ children normally have much higher CD4 cell counts than adults, but may also have higher viral loads (the amount of HIV in the blood).

HIV+ children are challenged by the fact that HIV is attacking their developing immune systems. As a result, HIV+ children are more likely to get bacterial infections such as pneumonia or sinusitis (inflammation of the air spaces that open into the nose). Some HIV+ children experience a lung problem called lymphoid interstitial pneumonitis (LIP). LIP symptoms include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Signs of HIV can also appear on the skin. Warts and molluscum contagiosum (small bumps on the skin), which are common in children and caused by certain viruses, can be more bothersome for HIV+ children.

HIV+ children may be small for their age and may not grow at the same rate as other children. A child may be undersized or underweight because of loss of appetite related to HIV or to some of the drug treatments. Thrush (white patches in the mouth due to yeast) is not uncommon in HIV+ kids and can make it difficult to eat. Since infections can start in the mouth, it is important that HIV+ children see a dentist regularly.

HIV+ children may have diarrhea, which can also make it difficult to gain weight. It is important that HIV+ children have proper nutrition. But getting kids to eat right can be hard, even when children are not HIV+! Ask your child's health care provider or an AIDS service organization for a referral to a dietician who knows about the nutritional needs of HIV+ people.

Preventing Illnesses

Recommendations have been made to prevent both HIV+ children and adults from getting opportunistic infections (OIs), diseases that attack the body when the immune system is weak. All HIV+ children up to the age of one are given medicine to prevent pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP, also called pneumocystis jirovecii), a type of pneumonia that is more likely to affect people with poor immune systems. After the first year, some children should still be given preventative medicine depending on their immune systems.

If an HIV+ child tests positive for exposure to tuberculosis (TB) after a TB skin test, other medicine will be given to keep TB from developing. Depending on the child's age and immune system, medication might also be given to prevent mycobacterium avium complex (MAC), which is caused by a germ that can affect the lungs or the gut. In some cases, these kinds of preventative medications can be stopped as the immune system becomes stronger.

Vaccinating your child is one of the most important things you can do to keep him or her from getting sick. HIV+ children are immunized for most diseases the same way as children without HIV.

Check with your child's health care provider about any special requirements for vaccines for HIV+ children. For example, HIV+ children can and should get measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and chicken pox (varicella) vaccine if their CD4 cells are high enough, but should not be vaccinated if their CD4 counts are very low.

Recognize that no parent can protect a child from every germ. While you may want to keep your HIV+ child from people who have colds and the flu, know that your child will eventually be around someone who is sick. Teach your child to practice frequent and thorough hand washing. Because children often rub their eyes or put their fingers in their mouths or noses, keeping hands reasonably free from germs can help keep your child well. As soon as possible, teach your child how to blow his or her nose.

HIV Care and Treatment for Children

Look for a pediatrician (children's doctor) who you feel comfortable talking to and who has experience treating HIV+ children. It is helpful to have a local pediatrician who is close by and can help with all of the regular childhood issues, and to consult a health care provider who is an HIV expert (especially if your local pediatricians do no have a lot of experience treating HIV+ kids). Expert HIV pediatricians will often work at a children's hospital or medical center with an HIV program.

HIV drug treatment works very well for children. The US Department of Health and Human Services has put together a set of pediatric treatment guidelines that recommend when children should start medications and which ones they should take. Starting early might keep HIV from causing more damage to your child's body.

Speak to your child's health care provider about starting HIV medications. Also ask about drug interactions and side effects. There is not as much information available about the use of HIV medications in children as in adults, and not all HIV drugs are available for children. Still, over ten HIV medications are approved for use by children. Finding the right dose is important. Children's doses are based on weight, so dosing will have to be adjusted frequently as your child grows.

Once HIV treatment is started, your child should be monitored regularly to make sure that the medications are working well and not causing any serious side effects. Work with your pediatrician to keep a close eye on your child's growth, development, and lab tests (such as viral load and CD4 counts). If you see problems, you may need to consider changing to different HIV drugs. Also ask your child if he or she is experiencing any pain. Staying aware of how your child is feeling will help you to know if he or she has become ill or is experiencing side effects.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
See Also
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