Studies indicate that when babies are breastfed exclusively, there is a 3 to 4 percent risk of HIV transmission. However, when babies are given formula or other foods in addition to breast milk, there is a significant three- to four-fold increase in the risk of HIV transmission, possibly because allergens and contaminants in solid foods and formula can compromise the epithelial lining of a baby's digestive tract, making it easier for viruses to pass through.
For this reason, WHO guidelines have recommended that after six months of exclusively breastfeeding, HIV-positive mothers wean their babies as soon as other foods are available. Even then, while weaning may decrease the risk of HIV transmission, studies have shown that it increases the risk of malnutrition, diarrhea and other diseases that can lead to infant mortality.
"Early cessation of breastfeeding has been tried in several recent studies, and the results suggest that stopping breastfeeding early increased the risk of infant illness, growth failure and death, and actually outweighed the risk of transmitting HIV through breast milk," said Abrams. "This has been a desperate dilemma for mothers in developing countries. Our method of flash-heating breast milk could be particularly important at the time the mother stops nursing. Roughly 300,000 infants contract HIV from breastfeeding each year. Even if only a small proportion of HIV-positive mothers in resource-poor countries can successfully express and flash-treat their milk, this simple, inexpensive and potentially sustainable method could still save thousands of babies from HIV infection while providing most of the health benefits of human milk."
This study reflects results from the first stage of research, headed by Abrams, into the effects of f
Contact: Sarah Yang
University of California - Berkeley