Does an infant get affected by maternal HIV? Every year about a million children is born to HIV infected women. The transmission of the virus from mother to child is prevented in most cases by using maternal antiretroviral treatment during the term of pregnancy, birth and subsequently breastfeeding. A short course of antiretroviral drugs is also administered on the baby.
Though these children do not come in contact with the virus their vulnerability becomes very high i.e., there is nearly two folds the possibility of mortality in these children as compared to children born to HIV free women. Until now this difference in the survival was pretty unclear.
What Study suggest about Maternal HIV?
Recently, a study by the researchers at The Saban Research Institute, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, has highlighted that gut microflora might be this important factor.
The study showed that due to HIV infection in the mother, the exposed but unaffected children might witness an alteration in the development of rich and healthy gut microflora, despite the mother having normal and similar microbes in the gut as HIV negative women.
For the study, scientists worked with 50 mother and child pairs. Half of which comprised of HIV positive mothers whereas the other half was HIV negative, on comparison of the gut microbiota it was seen that it was almost similar.
But surprisingly on studying the infants’ microbiome, they found that the gut microbiota of children who were HIV-exposed but uninfected was way less in diversity and maturity when compared to those born from infection-free mothers.
These observations have come as a big surprise to the researchers as mother-to-infant transfer of the microbiome could not result in the differences seen in the children because all the mothers had almost similar microbiota. The next step for the researchers was to look at the breast milk.
As we know that certain nutrients in milk such as oligosaccharides (indigestible by humans and broken down by the gut microbiota), act as prebiotics- promote the development of beneficial gut bacteria in the breastfed infant. On analyzing the oligosaccharides present in breast milk both the groups of women a drastic difference was seen HIV-positive mothers. As per researchers, this shows that perturbations in the healthy growth in the infants’ gut microbiota because of variance in the oligosaccharide content of breast milk may actually be the reason for the difference in the child’s intestinal microbiome and also their vulnerability.