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Testing for Pregnant Women

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Q.1 Can a baby have the HIV test?
Q.2 What are the possible advantages?
Q.3 What are the possible disadvantages?
Q.4 How does a mother transmit HIV to her unborn child?
Q.5 Are all pregnant women tested?

Q.1 Can a baby have the HIV test?
Ans. Yes, but it will not necessarily show whether the baby is infected. This is because the test is for HIV antibodies and all babies born to mothers with HIV are born with HIV antibodies. Babies who are not infected lose their antibodies by the time they are about 18 months old. However most babies can be diagnosed as either infected or uninfected by the time they are three months old by using a different test, called a D.N.A. PCR test. The PCR test is more sensitive than the HIV test, and is not used in the standard HIV testing of adults. It looks for the presence of HIV itself, not antibodies. These body fluids have been proven to spread HIV:-

- blood
- semen
- vaginal fluid
- breast milk
- Other body fluids containing blood.
Q.2 What are the possible advantages?
Ans. If a pregnant woman has a positive test result there are now drugs that can reduce the risk of her passing HIV on to her baby in the womb or at time of birth. Delivery by elective Caesarean Section also reduces the risk of a baby becoming infected. It is usually best for babies to be breast-fed. However, if a mother has HIV, beast-feeding will increase the risk of her baby becoming infected.
Q.3 What are the possible disadvantages?
Ans. Some pregnant women feel that they could not cope with finding out that they have HIV and that they may have put their baby at risk. A woman who is infected with HIV can still become pregnant and have a baby. Being pregnant will not increase her chances of developing AIDS. But some doctors think that pregnancy will make a woman who already has AIDS more seriously ill. If a woman's partner is not infected with HIV he is at risk of becoming infected if they have sexual intercourse without a condom. An HIV positive woman also has to consider how she will cope if her baby is infected with HIV. Some doctors think that a woman who has recently been infected, or a woman who has AIDS, is more likely to have an infected baby.
Q.4 How does a mother transmit HIV to her unborn child?
Ans. An HIV-infected mother can infect the child in her womb through her blood. The baby is more at risk if the mother has been recently infected or is in a later stage of AIDS. Transmission can also occur at the time of birth when the baby is exposed to the mother's blood and to some extent transmission can occur through breast milk..
Q.5 Are all pregnant women tested?
Ans. All Pregnant women are not tested for HIV. In some ante-natal clinics the test is offered and in others women have to ask for it. All pregnant women should have an HIV test. A woman will never be tested without her consent. If a woman is not sure what the arrangements are at her ante-natal clinic, she can ask her doctor or midwife about an HIV test.