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Few infectious diseases have gotten the public attention and caused the public concern that acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has. Human immunodeficiency virus is the organism responsible for AIDS. This infection and disease is a major concern for adults, and it also affects infants, children, and teenagers.

About half of all new HIV infections in the United States occur in teenagers and young adults, most often as an STI spread through body fluids such as semen, and vaginal fluids. It can also be spread through intravenous drug use and much less commonly, blood, blood products, needles, or other sharp instruments contaminated with infected body fluids or blood.

Infants and children most often get HIV infection from a mother with infection, often during delivery of the newborn or even before birth when HIV can be passed across the placenta to the fetus. It can also be spread through infected breastmilk. Cases of transmission have also been documented secondary to premastication (sharing pre-chewed food between caregivers and children).

The virus cannot be spread through hugging or sitting next to a person who is HIV-positive, shaking his or her hand, playing with his or her toys, or eating food prepared by a person with the infection. Transmission in schools or child care centers has not occurred.

Signs and Symptoms

Human immunodeficiency virus is an infection that lasts a lifetime. However, symptoms may not appear for many months or years after the virus is acquired. In fact, the average incubation time from getting the virus until developing the signs of AIDS in teenagers and adults is 10 to 11 years. This means that many young adults may not be aware that they are infected and can spread HIV to others.

When individuals are infected with HIV, the virus attacks their immune system. Signs and symptoms may include

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Recurrent diarrhea
  • Minor skin infections
  • Persistent fungus infections of the mouth (thrush)
  • Failure to gain weight or grow in height at a normal rate
  • An enlarged liver and spleen

As the immune system continues to deteriorate, AIDS-related infections and cancers can develop.

How Is The Diagnosis Made?

Blood tests are available to diagnose HIV infection. These tests detect the presence of antibodies to the virus. The virus itself can also be detected or quantified by nucleic actid testing (HIV viral load or DNA PCR). Click here for more information on diagnostic testing for sexually transmitted infections. 

If sexually active teenagers test positive for HIV, their sexual partners must be notified and tested immediately and again several months later.

Treatment

Several anti-HIV medications are approved for use in children and adolescents. When used in combination the drugs lower the levels of the HIV virus in the blood. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome–related infections, called opportunistic infections, can be treated as well.

Although there are various ways that HIV can be treated, there is no cure.

What Is the Prognosis?

Human immunodeficiency virus is a serious, life-threatening infection. It can leave children and adolescents vulnerable to serious types of communicable illnesses when their anti-HIV medications are not taken as they should be. With compliance to their medication regimens, HIV infected children and adolescents can expect to live a long and fulfilled life.

Prevention

A pregnant woman infected with HIV can lower the risk of spreading the virus to her newborn by taking the same medications, which are commonly prescribed for people who are HIV-positive. The newborn is treated for several weeks until it is clear whether he or she is infected.  When alternatives (such as infant formula) are available, the mother should not breastfeed. When an infant starts taking solid foods, pre-chewed foods should not be used as this can also spread HIV.

If your teenager is sexually active, he or she needs to practice safe sex, using a latex condom during every sexual experience. Even when teenagers infected with HIV do not have symptoms, they can still spread the virus to others.

HIV can also be spread via sharing syringes or needles, accidentally getting stuck by a needle with a person's blood on it, or contact with other body fluids containing blood.

 

Last Updated
7/31/2014
Source
Adapted from Immunizations and Infectious Diseases: An Informed Parent's Guide (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics) and updated 2012
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.