HIV testing during pregnancy is one of the important routine medical tests that every pregnant woman should try. The test consists of a blood test that will detect HIV antibodies: the infected person develops antibodies to fight off certain infections. HIV testing will be performed at the first prenatal routine medical examination of the pregnant woman – the blood test will check for both HIV and sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, herpes or hepatitis B.
HIV testing during pregnancy is considered important: a significant portion of those infected are children and most children infected with HIV were infected during pregnancy or during labour and delivery. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV significantly affects the health of the person, attacking the immune system and making the person more prone to various diseases and infections – a trivial infection such as the flu or a cold can be disastrous.
It is recommended for every pregnant woman to perform this simple medical test – regardless of the risk of being infected. It is not mandatory -you can refuse the test, but as it is a simple blood test that can prevent the transmission of the virus to the baby, so it is important that every pregnant woman is tested. Even if you believe that it is impossible to be infected, caution is always preferable – and if your doctor will not recommend testing, it is good to ask for it. Also, it is recommended that this test be done by the partner of the pregnant woman, too.
Because HIV can be present without visible symptoms, testing is important (testing before getting pregnant would be ideal). The infected people may not know it for a good period of time, even for years and the first symptoms may be easily overlooked or mistaken for something else: fatigue, weight loss, susceptibility to viral infections (colds, flu), headache or pain in the muscles.
The risk of being infected with HIV:
HIV is transmitted through sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, oral), the contact with infected blood (infected needles, razor blades, blood transfusions, touching an infected wound) during pregnancy, during labour and delivery and from mother to baby while nursing. It can not be transmitted through exterior contact of an infected person – touch.
HIV testing during pregnancy – positive result:
If the test is negative, you are not infected – but if you are at risk (you have had contact with an infected person), you repeat the test after about a month – about a month passes from the infection until the development of antibodies in the blood. If the blood test indicates a positive result, at some point you were infected with HIV – which does not mean that you have AIDS (it may take many years before AIDS is developed).
When the HIV testing during pregnancy indicates a positive result, there are some urgent measures that must be taken to protect the baby and to care for the pregnant woman.
- HIV brings not only the risk of transmission to the baby, but also other risks: premature birth and the slow development of the foetus, so the care during pregnancy will be essential: Regular routine checks, healthy eating (the lack of adequate nutrition and being underweight increase the risk of transmission of the infection to the foetus), prenatal vitamins to prevent deficiencies in the body, rest, protection against possible infections that affect a pregnant woman and the foetus (a simple viral infection such as the flu can have disastrous effects in women infected with HIV as a weakened immune system cannot fight against the other possible infection, so a viral or bacterial infection during pregnancy brings serious symptoms for women and significantly increases the odds of HIV transmission to the foetus through the placenta).
• Your doctor will prescribe medication that will prevent the transmission of the virus from mother to foetus through the placenta throughout the pregnancy, medication that will strengthen the resistance of the pregnant woman to possible diseases and will control the HIV infection.
• To prevent HIV transmission from mother to baby during delivery, the caesarean will be used most often before labour and the rupture of the membranes (during natural birth, there is an increased risk of infecting the baby, especially if some interventions such as episiotomy are used).
• To prevent the postpartum transmission of HIV from mother to baby, breast milk will usually be avoided, while of course, any contact between the mother and the baby’s blood should be avoided – caution: do not share nail clippers or toothbrushes).
• To reduce the chances of infecting the baby, it will be tested for HIV after birth and if the result is positive – and sometimes even if the result is negative – it will be provided medications for HIV in the first month of life; they do not have negative side effects.
• Support. Finding out that you are infected with HIV is always shocking news, the more during pregnancy, but you should realize that, with a proper care, you can lead a normal life and you can avoid passing the infection to your baby. You, however, need all the support possible: inform yourself about HIV, take contact information with groups and support groups, talk to people who are or were in your situation – to see that everything can be better even in this situation, as they can offer you some of the courage you need.
Once having taken these measures – the health care of the pregnant woman with HIV, medications, caesarean delivery – the chance to transmit HIV from the mother to the baby is very low – about 1% risk of infection.
Important: a pregnancy does not worsen the health of HIV-infected women!