"Folks in the community are probably a greater risk to a child with HIV, because of all the infections they can give them, than a child with HIV is to them," Bates said.
Yet as far as health care has come in the treatment of HIV, a cure remains elusive. In the spring, researchers reported that, for the first time, a baby had achieved long-term remission of HIV after receiving treatment for HIV within 30 hours of birth.
Though touted by some as a cure for HIV, the researchers remain cautious. At least in part, that could be because HIV doesn't act in the same way in every person, Bates explained.
"Some people have the ability to fight off the virus even without any medication, and that's a positive thing for those people and we're really looking at those people to get an idea of how we might be able to better target the virus," she said. "When we get to the point where there's a cure for HIV, I think it will be like the polio vaccine. It will still exist in some places, but it will be exceedingly rare."
In the meantime, one nearly surefire way to prevent new infections in children is to get expectant mothers who are HIV-positive on antiretroviral therapy.
"The ideal situation is for someone who knows she's HIV-positive, who has planned her pregnancy, to decrease her viral load as low as possible without medications that we don't recommend in pregnancy," said Dr. Geralyn O'Reilly, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.
"Unfortunately, we have a lot of patients who get diagnosed with their first prenatal blood draw," she said. "As soon as we can, we get them on antiretroviral therapy, which helps tremendously to keep the transmission rates down."
Depending on how well the medication reduces a woman's viral load, she may be able to give birth vaginally. If the viral load is too high, a cesarean birth is scheduled because that further reduces the chance of transmitting the virus.
"It's never too late," O'Reilly said. "Even if a woman had no prenatal care, there are ways we can try to prevent transmission of HIV."
Learn more about HIV/AIDS on the AIDS.gov website, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This HealthDay story tells about a mother and daughter who campaign against HIV transmission.
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