Why Are Infants of HIV-Positive Mothers More Vulnerable to Infections?

The scientists at the Imperial College London and Stellenbosch University, South Africa, have found that the babies of HIV-infected mothers are more prone to infections like meningitis and pneumonia. They are also at about four times higher risk of death before their first birthday than babies who are born to HIV-negative women. Besides the socioeconomic factors, their immune system might also be responsible for this vulnerability.

The researchers observed that infants of HIV-positive mothers have lower levels of antibodies. These antibodies fight against a host of bacterial infections like Hib, tetanus, pertussis etc. Antibodies are transferred from the mother to her infant through placenta during pregnancy. Mothers with HIV have low levels of some antibodies and less antibodies are transferred from the mother to the baby through placenta.

Dr Christine Jones, Department of Paediatrics at Imperial College London, feels that the lower antibody levels might provide less protection against many infections before the infant gets the first vaccination. However, these babies respond well to the vaccinations. So they can be protected either by vaccinating the baby early or by vaccinating the pregnant woman. Further research on these grounds are needed to find a credible solution.

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