An antiretroviral drug already in widespread use in the developing world to prevent the transmission of HIV from infected mothers to their newborns during childbirth has also been found to substantially cut the risk of subsequent HIV transmission during breast-feeding.
In a study presented at the 15th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, an international team of experts reported that nevirapine given once daily to breast-feeding infants who were 8 to 42 days old decreased by almost half the rate of HIV transmission via breast-feeding at 6 weeks of age. The decrease occurred in comparison to a single dose of nevirapine given to infants at birth, the current standard of care. At 6 months of age, the risk of postnatal HIV infection or death in infants who received the six-week regimen was almost one third less than the risk for infants given only a single dose.
Breast-feeding remains a leading route of HIV transmission in the developing world. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 150,000 infants are infected through breast-feeding each year. In the United States each year, roughly 150 newborns are infected with HIV at birth, mostly to mothers who did not know they were HIV-positive.