HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system, the body's natural defense system. If a child becomes infected, the virus destroys certain white blood cells. If too many are destroyed, the child's body has trouble fighting off disease.
The most severe stage of HIV infection is AIDS. Most of the time, treatment can prevent AIDS and help children who have HIV live long, healthy lives.
How do children get HIV?
Almost all children who have HIV got exposed to the virus during pregnancy or birth. The virus can spread through breastfeeding too. Older children and teens may get infected by having unprotected sex with someone who has HIV. Another way is by sharing infected needles while using drugs or steroids.
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 risk of being infected with HIV are tested as early as possible. This includes:
- Babies and children who were exposed to HIV during pregnancy or birth.
- Children who were exposed to HIV after birth.
- Children who go to the doctor with HIV-like symptoms.
How is HIV treated?
HIV is treated with a mix of medicines. The treatment your doctor prescribes depends on a few things. These include when and how your child was exposed to the HIV virus. They also include whether your child is already infected.
If your baby was exposed to HIV during pregnancy or birth, they need to be treated right away. Treatment can keep your baby from getting infected.
If your child is already infected with HIV, they can take medicines called antiretroviral therapy (ART). This treatment can reduce the amount of virus in your child's body. Taking ART medicines for the rest of their life can prevent AIDS and help your child stay healthy.
How do you care for your child who has HIV?
- Give your child their medicine exactly as directed. Try not to miss any doses. The medicine may not work if you miss doses. Talk to your doctor if you have problems with the schedule. Your doctor wants to help.
- Make taking their medicine a part of your child's daily routine. For example, have your child take the medicine with breakfast or before brushing teeth. You can also put the week's pills in a pillbox, post reminders on calendars, or use sticky notes. Try sending your child reminders as text messages. Or set smartphone alerts.
- Talk with your doctor if your child has trouble with the medicine. The doctor may be able to prescribe a medicine in a form that is easier to take.
- Make sure that your child eats healthy foods, gets plenty of exercise, and has all recommended vaccines on schedule.
- Join a support group. These groups can be a good place to share information, tips, and feelings.
Current as of: June 13, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.