Recommendations for the Use of Antiretroviral Drugs in Pregnant Women with HIV Infection and Interventions to Reduce Perinatal HIV Transmission in the United States

The information in the brief version is excerpted directly from the full-text guidelines. The brief version is a compilation of the tables and boxed recommendations.

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Management of Infants Born to Women with HIV Infection

Long-Term Follow-Up of Infants Exposed to Antiretroviral Drugs

Last Updated: December 7, 2018; Last Reviewed: December 7, 2018

Panel's Recommendations for the Long-Term Follow-Up of Infants Exposed to Antiretroviral Drugs
Panel's Recommendations
  • Children with in utero or neonatal exposure to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs who develop significant organ system abnormalities of unknown etiology, particularly of the nervous system or heart, should be evaluated for potential mitochondrial dysfunction (CIII).
  • It is important that the long-term medical record of a child without HIV includes information about in utero and neonatal ARV exposure (BIII).
Rating of Recommendations: A = Strong; B = Moderate; C = Optional
Rating of Evidence: I = One or more randomized trials with clinical outcomes and/or validated laboratory endpoints; II = One or more well-designed, nonrandomized trials or observational cohort studies with long-term clinical outcomes; III = Expert opinion

Beginning in the 1990s, evolving long-term monitoring studies, outcomes studies, and other types of surveillance and research have been conducted to assess whether in utero exposure to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs may pose later risks to children’s health. These include studies of children without HIV born to women with HIV infection, e.g., the Pediatric AIDS Clinical Trial Group (PACTG) Late Outcomes Study, and the Surveillance Monitoring for ART Toxicities (SMARTT) from the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study (PHACS). Participation of children and their parents in these types of observational studies provides an essential contribution to the research needed to monitor and identify long-term health outcomes from in utero HIV and ARV exposure. Available evidence does not permit definitive conclusions about whether exposure to ARV agents in utero might affect the long-term risk of malignancy, cardiometabolic, or neuropsychological outcomes in children; however, the balance of evidence accumulated during the past 2 decades, particularly related to zidovudine exposure, is reassuring. Potential toxicities require further, long-term investigation, especially as individual antenatal ARV drugs and ARV drug combinations continue to evolve. Initial data from follow-up of PACTG 076 infants through age 6 years did not indicate any differences in immunologic, neurologic, or growth parameters between infants who were exposed to the zidovudine regimen and those who received placebo, and no malignancies were noted.1,2 However, concerns remain that exposure to ARV drugs may have long-term effects on mitochondrial and immunologic function. Ongoing studies within the PHACS and other cohorts of children who are HIV-exposed but uninfected may help to identify the long-term risks of ARV drug exposure in infancy.

Potential Mitochondrial Toxicity

Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI) drugs induce some degree of mitochondrial dysfunction reflecting varying affinity for mitochondrial gamma DNA polymerase. This affinity can interfere with mitochondrial replication, resulting in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) depletion and dysfunction.3-5 Aberrant histological morphology of mitochondria, mtDNA mutations, alterations in mtDNA levels in cord blood mononuclear cells, and even aneuploidy in cord blood cells have all been described in both non-human primates and neonates exposed in utero to NRTI drugs.6-11 Reported increased and decreased alterations in mtDNA levels add further complexity to interpretation of their clinical significance; in addition, the data may be confounded by stage of maternal HIV infection, differences in laboratory assays and cell lines used and duration of elevation.8,10,12-15 One study has reported that respiratory chain mitochondrial function is subtly and transiently perturbed, with an increased incidence of abnormal newborn metabolic screen results for products of intermediary metabolism (elevated amino acids and acylcarnitines) in infants who are HIV exposed but uninfected compared with infants without HIV exposure.16 The degrees to which these theoretical concerns and documented mitochondrial abnormalities are clinically relevant are unknown, but they are significantly outweighed by the robust, proven efficacy of maternal and infant ARV prophylaxis in preventing perinatal HIV transmission.8,17

Evidence of clinically apparent effects of mitochondrial toxicity are also conflicting. A low rate of hyperlactatemia (3.4%) is documented among infants who are HIV-exposed but uninfected born to U.S. women receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART).18 However, earlier studies from the French Perinatal Study Group cohort noted a significantly increased incidence of clinical effects possibly reflecting mitochondrial dysfunction including seizures, cognitive and motor delays, abnormal neuroimaging, hyperlactatemia, cardiac dysfunction, and two deaths, with abnormal mitochondrial histology noted among some infants without HIV born to women with HIV (who received or did not receive ARV drugs during pregnancy: 12/2,644 vs. 0/1,748, respectively, P = 0.002).19,20 Further clinical studies from the United States and Europe have not duplicated these reported findings from the French Studies.21-27 In a report from a long-term follow-up study in the United States (PACTG 219/219C), 20 children with possible symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction were identified among a cohort of 1,037 infants who were HIV-exposed but uninfected.26 Definitive diagnosis was not possible because none of the children had biopsies for mitochondrial function; however, 3 of the 20 children had no exposure to ARV drugs. In the other 17 children, there was an association between symptoms and first exposure to zidovudine/lamivudine limited to the third trimester, but overall exposure to NRTI drugs was not associated with symptoms. Some small alterations in mtDNA and oxidative phosphorylation enzyme activities were documented in stored specimens from these children, but the clinical significance of these observations remains unknown.28,29

Given the above data, mitochondrial dysfunction should be considered in children without HIV, but with perinatal exposure to ARV drugs who present with severe clinical findings of unknown etiology, particularly neurologic findings. It is important that the long-term medical record of a child without HIV includes information about ARV exposure in the event that the child develops unusual symptoms later in life, or if adverse late effects of HIV or ARV exposure in children without HIV are identified in the future.8,30,31

Potential Cancer Risk and Exposure to Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitor Drugs

Although older studies have not found an association between in utero ARV exposure and malignances, follow-up was limited to early childhood.1,2,27 Animal studies have reported potential transplacental genotoxicity of nucleoside analogue therapy in monkeys, and micro-nucleated erythrocytes have been identified among infants with in utero nucleoside analogue exposure.32,33 In an initial report from the French Perinatal Cohort in 2008, which included cross-check with the French National Cancer Registry, the incidence of cancer among 9,127 children who were HIV-exposed but uninfected (median age 5.4 years) was not significantly different from that expected for the general population; however, the relative risk of cancer for children was higher with exposure to a didanosine/lamivudine combination than to zidovudine monotherapy.34 An updated report from the French Perinatal Cohort described 21 cancers in 15,163 children without HIV (median age 9.9 years) exposed in utero to HIV and ≥1 NRTI drug.35 Among the NRTIs studied, didanosine (which is no longer recommended) was potentially associated with risk of cancer. In a study in the United States, there were 4 cancer diagnoses among 3,087 children exposed to HIV; cancer incidence in children who were HIV exposed but not exposed to ARV prophylaxis was not significantly different than incidence in children exposed to any ARV prophylaxis, and the number of cancer cases did not differ significantly from cases expected based on national reference rates.36 Continued follow-up of children who are HIV- and ARV-exposed but uninfected is needed to evaluate the potential risk of cancer as these children age into adulthood.

Potential Immunologic Dysfunction

The potential impact of HIV exposure on the immune system of an infant without HIV is unclear. One study reported lower CD4 T lymphocyte (CD4) cell counts in HIV-exposed but uninfected infants born to mothers whose viral load at delivery was >1,000 copies/mL than in HIV-exposed but uninfected infants whose mothers had a viral load <50 copies/mL at delivery.37 Other data suggest that exposure to HIV in utero may be associated with alterations in CD4 and CD8 cell-mediated immune responses in infants to vaccines and non-specific antigens in infants.38 More recent data indicate immune activation and proinflammatory responses are greater in infants who are HIV exposed than in infants who are HIV unexposed.39-43

Potential Increased Morbidity and Mortality

The French Perinatal Cohort Group has reported an increased risk of serious bacterial infections with encapsulated organisms in infants HIV-exposed born to mothers with low CD4 numbers near the time of delivery.44

Data from Botswana also show higher rates of morbidity and mortality in infants and children HIV-exposed but uninfected than in infants HIV-unexposed.45-47 A meta-analysis assessing all-cause mortality in infants and children HIV-exposed but uninfected consistently observed increased risk in this group compared to HIV-unexposed infants.48 Further study is needed regarding the reproducibility of these data, and whether there is an immunological basis for the increased susceptibility of infants and children HIV exposed but uninfected to infectious diseases.49


Ongoing evaluation of the early and late effects of in utero exposure to ARV drugs and infant feeding approaches include the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study Surveillance Monitoring of Antiretroviral Toxicity study, natural history studies, and HIV/AIDS surveillance conducted by state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because much of the available follow-up data to date relate to in utero exposure to antenatal zidovudine or other NRTIs alone, and most pregnant women with HIV currently receive ART regimens, it is critical that studies to evaluate potential adverse effects of in utero drug exposure continue to be supported. HIV surveillance databases from states that require HIV reporting provide an opportunity to collect population-based information concerning in utero exposure to ARV drugs. To the extent permitted by federal law and regulations, data from these confidential registries can be compared with information from birth defect and cancer registries to identify potential adverse outcomes.


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  2. Hanson IC, Antonelli TA, Sperling RS, et al. Lack of tumors in infants with perinatal HIV-1 exposure and fetal/neonatal exposure to zidovudine. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr Hum Retrovirol. 1999;20(5):463-467. Available at:
  3. Brinkman K, Ter Hofstede HJ, Burger DM, et al. Adverse effects of reverse transcriptase inhibitors: mitochondrial toxicity as common pathway. AIDS. 1998;12(14):1735-1744. Available at:
  4. Birkus G, Hitchcock MJ, Cihlar T. Assessment of mitochondrial toxicity in human cells treated with tenofovir: comparison with other nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2002;46(3):716-723. Available at:
  5. Saitoh A, Haas RH, Naviaux RK, Salva NG, Wong JK, Spector SA. Impact of nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors on mitochondrial DNA and RNA in human skeletal muscle cells. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2008;52(8):2825-2830. Available at:
  6. Divi RL, Leonard SL, Kuo MM, et al. Transplacentally exposed human and monkey newborn infants show similar evidence of nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor-induced mitochondrial toxicity. Environ Mol Mutagen. 2007;48(3-4):201-209. Available at:
  7. Poirier MC, Divi RL, Al-Harthi L, et al. Long-term mitochondrial toxicity in HIV-uninfected infants born to HIV-infected mothers. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2003;33(2):175-183. Available at:
  8. Jao J, Abrams EJ. Metabolic complications of in utero maternal HIV and antiretroviral exposure in HIV-exposed Infants. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2014;33(7):734-740. Available at:
  9. Martin F, Taylor GP. The safety of highly active antiretroviral therapy for the HIV-positive pregnant mother and her baby: is 'the more the merrier'? J Antimicrob Chemother. 2009;64(5):895-900. Available at:
  10. Jao J, Powis KM, Kirmse B, et al. Lower mitochondrial DNA and altered mitochondrial fuel metabolism in hiv-exposed uninfected infants in cameroon. AIDS. 2017;31(18):2475-2481. Available at:
  11. Budd MA, Calli K, Samson L, et al. Blood mitochondrial DNA content in HIV-exposed uninfected children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Viruses. 2018;10(2). Available at:
  12. Aldrovandi GM, Chu C, Shearer WT, et al. Antiretroviral exposure and lymphocyte mtDNA content among uninfected infants of HIV-1-infected women. Pediatrics. 2009;124(6):e1189-1197. Available at:
  13. Cote HC, Raboud J, Bitnun A, et al. Perinatal exposure to antiretroviral therapy is associated with increased blood mitochondrial DNA levels and decreased mitochondrial gene expression in infants. J Infect Dis. 2008;198(6):851-859. Available at:
  14. Gingelmaier A, Grubert TA, Kost BP, et al. Mitochondrial toxicity in HIV type-1-exposed pregnancies in the era of highly active antiretroviral therapy. Antivir Ther. 2009;14(3):331-338. Available at:
  15. Ajaykumar A, Zhu M, Soudeyns H, et al. HEU blood MTDNA content remains elevated from birth into early life (0-3 years). Abstract 879. Presented at: Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. 2018. Boston, Massachusetts. Available at:
  16. Kirmse B, Hobbs CV, Peter I, et al. Abnormal newborn screens and acylcarnitines in HIV-exposed and ARV-exposed infants. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2013;32(2):146-150. Available at:
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  18. Crain MJ, Williams PL, Griner R, et al. Point-of-care capillary blood lactate measurements in human immunodeficiency virus-uninfected children with in utero exposure to human immunodeficiency virus and antiretroviral medications. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2011;30(12):1069-1074. Available at:
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  23. Lipshultz SE, Easley KA, Orav EJ, et al. Absence of cardiac toxicity of zidovudine in infants. Pediatric pulmonary and cardiac complications of vertically transmitted HIV infection study group. N Engl J Med. 2000;343(11):759-766. Available at:
  24. European Collaborative Study. Exposure to antiretroviral therapy in utero or early life: the health of uninfected children born to HIV-infected women. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2003;32(4):380-387. Available at:
  25. Alimenti A, Forbes JC, Oberlander TF, et al. A prospective controlled study of neurodevelopment in HIV-uninfected children exposed to combination antiretroviral drugs in pregnancy. Pediatrics. 2006;118(4):e1139-1145. Available at:
  26. Brogly SB, Ylitalo N, Mofenson LM, et al. In utero nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor exposure and signs of possible mitochondrial dysfunction in HIV-uninfected children. AIDS. 2007;21(8):929-938. Available at:
  27. Hankin C, Lyall H, Peckham C, Tookey P. Monitoring death and cancer in children born to HIV-infected women in England and Wales: use of HIV surveillance and national routine data. AIDS. 2007;21(7):867-869. Available at:
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  33. Witt KL, Cunningham CK, Patterson KB, et al. Elevated frequencies of micronucleated erythrocytes in infants exposed to zidovudine in utero and postpartum to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Environ Mol Mutagen. 2007;48(3-4):322-329. Available at:
  34. Benhammou V, Warszawski J, Bellec S, et al. Incidence of cancer in children perinatally exposed to nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors. AIDS. 2008;22(16):2165-2177. Available at:
  35. Hleyhel M, Goujon S, Delteil C, et al. Risk of cancer in children exposed to didanosine in utero. AIDS. 2016;30(8):1245-1256. Available at:
  36. Ivy W, 3rd, Nesheim SR, Paul SM, et al. Cancer among children with perinatal exposure to HIV and antiretroviral medications--New Jersey, 1995-2010. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2015;70(1):62-66. Available at:
  37. Kakkar F, Lamarre V, Ducruet T, et al. Impact of maternal HIV-1 viremia on lymphocyte subsets among HIV-exposed uninfected infants: protective mechanism or immunodeficiency. BMC Infect Dis. 2014;14:236. Available at:
  38. Kidzeru EB, Hesseling AC, Passmore JA, et al. In-utero exposure to maternal HIV infection alters T-cell immune responses to vaccination in HIV-uninfected infants. AIDS. 2014;28(10):1421-1430. Available at:
  39. Schoeman JC, Moutloatse GP, Harms AC, et al. Fetal metabolic stress disrupts immune homeostasis and induces proinflammatory responses in human immunodeficiency virus type 1- and combination antiretroviral therapy-exposed infants. J Infect Dis. 2017;216(4):436-446. Available at:
  40. Evans C, Chasekwa B, Rukobo S, et al. Inflammation, CMV and the growth hormone axis in HIV-exposed uninfected infants. Abstract 873. Presented at: Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. 2018. Boston, Massachusetts. Available at:
  41. Mussi-Pinhata MM, Weinberg A, Yu Q, et al. Increased inflammation and monocyte activation in HIV-exposed uninfected infants. Presented at: Conference Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. 2018. Boston, Massachusetts. Available at:
  42. Broncano PG, Kgole SW, Masasa G, et al. Innate immune activation among HIV-1 exposed uninfected infants from Botwswana. Abstract 881. Presented at: Conference on Retroviruses Opportunistic Infections. 2018. Boston, Massachusetts. Available at:
  43. Mitchell C, Dominguez S, George V, et al. Microbial translocation, immune activation, and gut dysbiosis in HIV-exposed infants. Abstract 882. Presented at: Conferences on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. 2018. Boston, Massachusetts. Available at:
  44. Taron-Brocard C, Le Chenadec J, Faye A, et al. Increased risk of serious bacterial infections due to maternal immunosuppression in HIV-exposed uninfected infants in a European country. Clin Infect Dis. 2014;59(9):1332-1345. Available at:
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  46. Dryden-Peterson S, Ramos T, Shapiro R, Lockman S. Maternal ART and hospitalization or death among HIV-exposed uninfected infants. Presented at: The 23rd Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. 2016. Seattle, WA.
  47. Ajibola G, Mayondi G, Leidner J, et al. Higher mortality in HIV-exposed/uninfected vs. HIV-unexposed infants, Botswana. Presented at: The 23rd Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. 2016. Seattle, WA.
  48. Brennan AT, Bonawitz R, Gill CJ, et al. A meta-analysis assessing all-cause mortality in HIV-exposed uninfected compared with HIV-unexposed uninfected infants and children. AIDS. 2016;30(15):2351-2360. Available at:
  49. Ruck C, Reikie BA, Marchant A, Kollmann TR, Kakkar F. Linking susceptibility to infectious diseases to immune system abnormalities among HIV-exposed uninfected infants. Front Immunol. 2016;7:310. Available at:

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