Modern antiretroviral drugs can offer pregnant women with HIV the ability to stop the virus from passing on to their babies, though birth defects are possible as a result, a new study reports.
According to the World Health Organization, 34 million people were living with HIV in 2010, at least 15 million of whom needed antiretroviral drug treatment. Through 2008, roughly 56,000 people in New Jersey were living with the virus, whether diagnosed as HIV positive or with a full-blown AIDS diagnosis.
In addition to the benefits afforded to the patients who take them, antiretroviral drugs can provide pregnant women with HIV a certain degree of confidence that their children will be free from the AIDS-causing virus. The drugs reduce the chances of children contracting HIV from their mothers from as high as 25 percent to less than one percent, according to the study.
Of course, there are possible side effects. A Boston dental school examined five years of adverse events for a potential link between consumption of antiretroviral drugs and birth defects. The study found seven antiretroviral drugs tied to 26 cases of cleft palate and lip. The findings published in last month's issue of Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal serve as a red flag for the prescribed use of antiretroviral drugs for pregnant women with HIV.
However, researchers noted that the association does not necessarily prove the drugs directly cause these defects. Cleft palate and lip are congenital malformations believed to be caused by both environmental and genetic factors.
The drugs tested included Epivir, EFV, Viracept, and the combination of Ziagen, lamivudine, Retrovir and sulfate. While these drugs are being sold to consumers, they are not currently deemed safe to use during pregnancy.
Experts say more research is needed, but in the meantime, patients should be aware of the potential harm posed by such drugs when making decisions regarding their own health as well as that of their families. Providers likewise need to make sure patients are fully informed of the risks and benefits of any medications or procedures before moving forward with a treatment plan.