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Boys born to mothers with HIV are at greater risk of health problems, death in infancy

Interventions targeting maternal inflammation and its causes during pregnancy might reduce infant mortality.

Photo by Janko Ferlic from Unsplash.com

Children of women with HIV infection have an increased risk of immune abnormalities following exposure to maternal HIV viraemia, immune dysfunction, and co-infections during pregnancy. 

This is according to a study – “Inflammation and cytomegalovirus viremia during pregnancy drive sex-differentiated differences in mortality and immune development in HIV-exposed infants” – that was published in Nature Communications

The study, led by Ceri Evans, compared clinical outcomes between infants who were HIV-exposed and HIV-unexposed in the Sanitation Hygiene Infant Nutrition Efficacy (SHINE) trial in rural Zimbabwe. Despite high coverage of maternal antiretroviral therapy (ART) and uptake of exclusive breastfeeding, mortality in infants exposed to HIV was 41% higher than in infants not exposed to HIV. Infants who survived and remained HIV-free had impaired growth and development.  

The researchers also found that the immune development of HIV-exposed babies – and especially boys – was different to those who had not been exposed to HIV, making it less effective in dealing with future infections. Infection with cytomegalovirus (CMV), which is a co-factor in HIV disease progression, was also found to be independently associated with infant mortality, as well as impacting on the development of the child’s immune system. 

Evans said: ‘Collectively, these findings show how the skewed immune milieu of women with HIV in pregnancy – characterized by inflammation, immune dysfunction, and co-infections – shapes immune development in their offspring. Inflammation, as indicated by CRP, is inexpensive and simple to measure, offering the immediate opportunity for antenatal point-of-care testing to be used to identify those most at risk of infant mortality, with more support provided for high-risk pregnancies. CMV co-infection… may offer a new intervention target to improve outcomes in this vulnerable population of children.’ 

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