Finding Safer HIV Treatments for Children
HIV treatments for children is different from treating adults – particularly, for those under three years of age. Doctors have little in the way of guidelines for such treatment. Studies focus on determining which treatments are the most beneficial, with the least long term damage.
Often HIV positive women who are pregnant are given the pharmaceutical drug nevirapine to protect the fetus from transmission. Unfortunately, the drug prevents HIV transmission by only 50%. However, in the event the child does contract HIV, research indicates that, once born, these children can transition from the common treatment for infants to the drug used to treat adults. The drug used for adults is efavirenz, and is not usually administered to persons under the age of three. For infants, a completely different class of drug is used as HIV therapy. Lopinavir/ritonavir is the recommended choice, thus far, for HIV-positive children under three. However, when little ones– those who had exposure to nevirapine in the womb– were given efavirenz, research yielded favorable results.
Researchers were pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness that the changeover brought about. Viral rebound was similar as with the use of the lopinavir/ritonavir. More promising than those results were the CD 4 T-cell counts. These are immune cells that are targeted by the virus. This deadly attack greatly reduces the number of these important immune cells. In children treated with efavirenz, the CD 4 T-cell count was higher than in children provided with the recommended drugs for their age group. In under a year’s time, liver function also proved better than those on the traditionally used medications.
In conclusion, so far, as long as an infant has their infection under control, HIV treatments for children using nevirapine can safely be transitioned to efavirenz. From the studies completed and research gathered, researchers still need further studies to show more results. At this time, the results appear promising though. Experts also plan to investigate long-term effects. In the meantime, finding gentler and more effective ways to treat little ones is high on the priority list.