Low Risk of Birth Defects: HIV and Antiretroviral Medication

With new compounds and therapies expanding what can be done for individuals living with HIV, more and more infected women are looking towards pregnancy and childbirth. The combination of pregnancy and the latest antiviral medications is always a cause of concern, as we often don’t have enough data to make a definitive decision on whether a certain medicine should be given to an individual while pregnant. We also need to know when it is most likely for a mother to infect her infant, and which medicines are best at keeping the rate of infection low. Certainly, many antiretroviral drugs developed in the fight against HIV have been thought to increase the potential of birth defects in the unborn children. A new study, however, shows the opposite. Indeed, it confirms a low risk of birth defects by antiretroviral medications used during pregnancy.

This study – the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study (PHACS) Surveillance Monitoring of ART Toxicities (SMARTT) study – released its findings on 10 November 2014. Atazanavir was the only antiretroviral drug that was shown to increase the otherwise low risk of birth defects among HIV-positive women. This medication showed a 2-fold increase in the risk of birth defects, particularly musculoskeletal and skin anomalies. However, another study confirmed that at least three varied regimens of anti-HIV medications—that did not include atazanavir—was safe for women who are expecting. In fact, all other antiretroviral, anti-HIV medications tested in these studies showed no increase in the risk of birth defects. This is great news for HIV infected women who still want to become mothers. With the risks of infecting their child minimal, and the side effects almost non-existent, the hopes of researchers are high that we will find ways to altogether eliminate the transfer of HIV between mother and child.