There are lots of fears and myths surrounding HIV and it’s important to get all the facts if you are HIV positive and pregnant or considering getting pregnant.
What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is the virus that causes AIDS. This virus prevents the body’s immune system from working properly and makes it hard to fight off infections. Many people who have HIV have no symptoms so may not know they have the virus. HIV can be passed from one person to another through body fluids; blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.
Why is it important to know if you are HIV positive during pregnancy?
Babies can get HIV from their mothers before they are born or during labour and birth. If you find out that you have HIV before your baby is born, you can have treatment that will probably prevent HIV being passed to your baby. The treatment works well by reducing the risk of the baby getting HIV from 31.5 percent to less than 1 percent.
Antenatal HIV screening, along with five other blood tests, is offered to all pregnant women as a routine part of their antenatal care. Most women in New Zealand will not have HIV. Women who are found to have HIV can be offered treatment to reduce the chance they will pass the virus to the baby.
What happens if the result is reactive?
If the HIV screening test is reactive you will be asked to do a second blood test. If the follow up blood test is positive, professional advice, help and support will be given to help you look after your health, and that of your baby, your partner and your family/whānau. HIV is now a treatable chronic illness. While it requires careful management and long term treatment; treatment can help you stay well and prevent you from passing the virus to the baby.
What is the treatment?
Pregnant women will usually be offered a combination of treatment and interventions. These include medicines during pregnancy and birth, advice about safe ways for the baby to be delivered, medicines for the baby for a few weeks after birth, and advice about safe feeding for your baby.
How effective is the treatment?
Without treatment there is up to a 31.5 percent chance the baby will be born with HIV. With treatment the chance of the baby being born with HIV is less than 1 percent. Early treatment and support for mothers with HIV is also important because it helps them to remain well.
There have so far been no babies infected with HIV in New Zealand during pregnancy, birth or postnatally who were born to mothers diagnosed during or before pregnancy, treated during pregnancy and did not breastfeed their baby.
Screening pregnant women for HIV could prevent several babies from getting HIV in New Zealand each year.
How can I find out more?