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Questions & Answers: HIV Transmission

Question

I am a nursing student and I am currently trying to find out information about perinatal nurses and their exposure to HIV in labor and delivery. Current data has shown that nurses use universal precautions only about half of the time. Do you have any information pertaining to this topic? Thank you.


Answer

As far as we know, there has been nothing written about exposure to HIV when nurses do not completely follow universal precaution procedures. During the past 12 months, New England Journal of Medicine published a paper about post-exposure prophylaxis with zidovudine in reducing the risk of HIV infection. This paper refers to known identified exposures.



Question

What are the ways a newborn can contract HIV from it's mother?

-- A student in Bakersfield, CA

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Answer

Thank you for your question. Here is some information about how HIV is transmitted to people and infants.

HIV is found in blood, semen (the fluid containing sperm), vaginal fluid, and breast milk. A person can get HIV in one or more of these ways:

  • Sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) with a person who is infected with HIV. Children, like adults, can also get infected from sexual contact, which is called sexual abuse. This has been seen infrequently.

  • Sharing needles with someone, because used needles may be contaminated with HIV-infected blood.

  • Receiving a transfusion of infected blood (extremely uncommon since 1985).

  • Perinatal transmission. This means that a baby can become infected while in the mother's womb or during birth, if the mother has HIV. Mothers can also pass HIV to their babies through breastfeeding. It is very important for women who have HIV infection NOT TO BREASTFEED. Women may be infected with HIV and not know it. Many women discover they are infected with HIV after their child develops the disease. In general, pregnant women with HIV have about a 1 in 4 chance of passing HIV to their infants (unless special medications are taken to prevent this).

In a study called ACTG 076, it was found that certain pregnant women who were infected with HIV and took AZT (also called Retrovir®, zidovudine) were less likely to pass the virus to their babies. More than 500 pregnant women participated in the study. Half of the mothers and babies did not take AZT. The other half of the women took AZT, and their babies were given AZT for 6 weeks after they were born. In the group who took AZT, only 8% of the infants were infected with HIV. In the group that did not get AZT, 25% of babies were infected with HIV.


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