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Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that is responsible for causing acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). The virus destroys or impairs cells of the immune system and progressively destroys the body's ability to fight infections and certain cancers. In adults and adolescents, HIV is most commonly spread by sexual contact with an infected partner. In the US, nearly all HIV infections in children under the age of 13 are from vertical transmission, which means the virus is passed to the child when they are in their mother's womb or as they pass through the birth canal. The virus has also been detected in breast milk. Before 1985, a small group of children were infected with the virus by contaminated blood products. Routine screening of blood products began in 1985. Not every child born to an HIV-infected mother will acquire the virus.
The following are the means by which the HIV virus is spread:
No known cases of HIV/AIDS have been spread by the following:
The National Institutes of Medicine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other health organizations recommend blood testing of all pregnant women for HIV.
Prenatal care that includes HIV counseling, testing, and treatment for infected mothers and their children saves lives and resources. Current recommendations are for HIV positive women to take a number of medications during pregnancy and during labor. Blood tests are also performed to check the amount of virus. Newborn babies of HIV positive mothers also receive medication. Studies have found this can reduce the chance of a mother's transmission of HIV to the baby from 25 percent to less than 2 percent.
Cesarean delivery may be recommended for HIV positive women. This may help reduce the transmission of the virus to the baby. Because breast milk contains the virus, HIV positive women should not breastfeed their babies.
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