(Last updated 4/26/2016; last reviewed 4/26/2016)
Yes, children and adolescents are among the people living with HIV in the United States.
HIV can pass from an HIV-infected mother to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. Mother-to-child transmission is the most common way that children become infected with HIV.
Fortunately, HIV-infected women can take HIV medicines during pregnancy and childbirth to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. In addition, babies born to HIV-infected women receive HIV medicine for about 6 weeks after birth. The HIV medicine protects the babies from any HIV that may have passed from mother to child during childbirth.
Although rare, there are reports of some infants and children becoming infected with HIV by eating food that was previously chewed by a person with HIV. To be safe, infants and children should not be fed pre-chewed food.
Most adolescents who get HIV are infected through sex. Many of them are recently infected and don’t know that they are HIV positive.
Some HIV-infected adolescents have been living with HIV since infancy. When they were infants, they acquired HIV largely through mother-to-child transmission (or, in rare cases, after receiving blood from an HIV-infected donor).
Several factors make it challenging to prevent HIV in adolescents. Many adolescents are not concerned about getting HIV. They may not take steps to prevent HIV infection, such as using condoms during sex.
The following factors also put adolescents at risk of HIV infection:
The use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is recommended for everyone with HIV, including children and adolescents.
When to start ART and what HIV medicines to take depends on many factors. Growth and development are two issues that affect HIV treatment in children and adolescents.
Because children and adolescents with HIV are still growing, dosing of HIV medicines is not always based on age. Instead, weight or stage of development is used to determine the appropriate dose of an HIV medicine.
The form of an HIV medicine to use can depend on a child’s age. For example, some HIV medicines come in a liquid form, which can make it easier for infants and young children to take their medicines.
Medication adherence means taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed. Effective ART depends on good adherence.
Several factors can make adherence difficult for children and adolescents with HIV. For example, a child may refuse to take an HIV medicine because it tastes unpleasant.
Stigma associated with HIV can make adherence especially difficult for HIV-infected adolescents. They may skip medicine doses to avoid disclosing their HIV-positive status.
The following factors can also affect medication adherence in children and adolescents:
The AIDSinfo fact sheet Following an HIV Regimen: Steps to Take Before and After Starting HIV Medicines includes tips on adherence. Some of the tips may be useful to children and adolescents with HIV and their parents or caregivers.
From the Department of Health and Human Services: