To print: Use your web browser's print feature. Close this window after printing.

HIV Treatment in Children

Table of Contents


HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system. This is the body's natural defense system.

A child can become infected with HIV if he or she is exposed to the virus. The virus destroys certain white blood cells. If too many are destroyed, the body has trouble fighting off disease.

The last stage of HIV infection is AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). But if your child has HIV, it doesn't mean that he or she has AIDS.

How do children get HIV?

Children can be exposed to the virus in several ways. If a pregnant woman has HIV, her baby can be exposed before and during birth. The virus can spread through breastfeeding too. Getting stuck with a needle that has the virus on it or having sexual contact can also expose children to the virus.

How is HIV diagnosed?

HIV is diagnosed with blood tests. If the virus is found, the test is positive. If HIV is not found (negative), your child may need a repeat test to be sure the results are correct.

Children who are at high risk of being infected with HIV are tested as early as possible. These children include:

How is HIV treated?

The treatment for HIV is a mix of medicines. The course of treatment your doctor prescribes depends on several things. These include when and how your child was exposed to the HIV virus and whether or not the virus has already infected your child.

Doctors recommend that babies whose mothers have HIV be treated right away. Even when babies test negative for HIV at birth, they may have been exposed to the virus during the birth. Treatment can keep the baby from getting infected.

If your child has been exposed to HIV after birth, getting treated right away can help prevent the virus from taking hold and spreading in your child's body. This treatment is called post-exposure prevention (PEP).

If your child is already infected with HIV, treatment can reduce the amount of virus in your child's body. It can also help your child stay healthy. This treatment is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). Your child will need to take ART medicines for the rest of their life.

How do you care for your child who has HIV?

Credits for HIV Treatment in Children

Current as of: October 31, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Peter Shalit MD, PhD - Internal Medicine

Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document. Some information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.