Los Angeles County health officials have received 18 new reports of HIV infections among children this year, exceeding the annual total for each of the last three years. County officials received seven case reports in all of last year, 14 in 2000 and 11 in 1999. Thirty-two HIV cases among children were reported in 1998. None of the new cases was born this year; eight were born in 2000-2001.
Largely because of aggressive treatment -- including AZT -- 55 virus-free babies were born this year to HIV-positive mothers, said Dr. Toni Frederick, chief epidemiologist with the county's pediatric HIV project. Still, health experts reiterated an urgent plea issued in February -- after receiving seven reports of HIV in children -- that pregnant women be tested and treated for HIV.
The newly reported cases in Los Angeles County have renewed a debate over whether California ought to make HIV testing of pregnant women a regular part of prenatal care, unless women refuse. Assemblymember Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles) sponsored a bill that would have mandated such testing, but Gov. Gray Davis vetoed it, saying the "current universal voluntary system seems to be working well." "I support the goal of more testing, but I believe this bill represents a fundamental shift from voluntary testing toward a mandatory system, which may reduce an at-risk woman's willingness to receive prenatal care," the governor wrote.
In 2001, 83 HIV-positive women were treated with AZT during labor and delivery, and none of their babies was infected. All of the six infected babies born in 2001 had mothers who did not receive treatment. Three of the new cases were children born outside the United States who moved to Los Angeles; three were diagnosed in Los Angeles after moving from other cities. The mothers of two children tested HIV-negative, meaning they were infected too recently to test positive or they were infected after being tested. The oldest new case, a boy in his late teens, may have contracted the disease from a blood transfusion. A preteen girl's infection came to light only after her mother showed AIDS symptoms.
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