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Medical News

Early AIDS in Children Impairs Cognition

March 24, 2006

A new study by researchers with the Women and Infants Transmission Study Group found that early diagnosis of an AIDS-defining illness in children who acquired HIV from their mothers is associated with impaired cognitive development.

The University of Illinois-Chicago's Dr. Renee Smith and colleagues followed 117 children with maternally acquired HIV and 422 children who were HIV-exposed but did not become infected. The researchers assessed neurocognitive development at age 3 and again at age 7.

Compared to HIV-positive children and those exposed to but not infected with HIV, children with an early diagnosis of an AIDS-defining illness "scored significantly lower in all domains of cognitive development, across all time points." Similar levels of neurocognitive development were reported in HIV-infected children and those uninfected but exposed to the virus.

Though it is not completely clear why an AIDS diagnosis so strongly affected the cognitive abilities in the sample, Smith noted that "the central nervous system is a compartment that is very vulnerable to HIV infection," which through indirect effects does "substantial structural and functional damage to the brain."

Smith speculated that children who develop AIDS very early in life "may have been infected with the virus during earlier periods of their mother's pregnancy, rather than later, during the birthing process." "Being infected during pregnancy may mean either that the baby was infected for a longer period of time, with longer periods of HIV replication, than those infected close to birth, or that the virus and its pathological processes were introduced at a time when critical brain development was occurring, and resulted in a long-term impact on functioning."

The full study, "Effects of Perinatal HIV Infection and Associated Risk Factors on Cognitive Development Among Young Children," was published in the journal Pediatrics (2006;117(3):851-862).

Back to other news for March 24, 2006

Adapted from:
03.21.2006; Martha Kerr

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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