Today is World’s AIDS Day, a time to show support to those living with HIV and AIDS, and to push for increased awareness and funding for treatments. I thought this would be an apt time to discuss the facts of HIV transmission, for those who may be considering adopting a child who has been exposed to HIV/AIDS.

There are still a great deal of misconceptions about HIV and AIDS in the United States. This article aims to help clear up some of those.

How can you get HIV?

You can get HIV through one of three ways: sexual fluids (semen, or vaginal fluid), blood, and breast milk. So, you can catch HIV through things like sex, sharing needles, transmitting blood from open skin to open skin, and breastfeeding. HIV is NOT transmitted through saliva, urine, or feces, so you can’t get it from kissing, sharing food, etc.

What’s the difference between HIV and AIDS?

AIDS is the last stage of the HIV infection. Thanks to medications to help treat HIV, most people with HIV do not have AIDS.

What are the chances of a child contracting HIV from their HIV+ mother?

According to the University of Minnesota Adoption Medicine Clinic:

With access for the mother and infant to the best possible HIV and obstetrical care, a baby can have a < 2% chance of being HIV infected. Unfortunately many HIV-infected women in the world do not have specific preventative therapy; the risk for their baby to become HIV infected can be 20-25%.

If the baby is breast fed (which is the safest form of feeding in many places in the world) the risk of transmission is increased an additional 15-20%. There are additional factors that can increase the risk even further. The baby can only become HIV infected if the mother, not the father only, is HIV-infected. If a mother becomes newly HIV-infected during pregnancy or breastfeeding however, the risk for transmission increases further.

When can a child be tested?

Because a child has their mother’s antibodies for awhile after birth, it takes months to get an accurate test. Depending on the type of testing used, this can take 4-18 months. Prior to this, a child could test positive because their mother’s antibodies would be positive.

What kind of life would my child with HIV have?

Children with HIV have to take medication once or twice a day, and see a specialist a few times a year. Other than that, they have a life like any other child! The expectation is that children with HIV will go on to college, get married, and have families of their own, if that’s what they desire.

Who do we have to tell about my child’s HIV status?

You don’t have to disclose it to anyone, except medical professionals (doctors, dentists). There is still stigma around being HIV+, and your child’s story is his/her own, so be careful about who you choose to tell outside of this group.

What support is available?

While preparing this article, I found Positively Adopted. They provide good medical information, link to blogs of families with HIV+ children, and have a Yahoo group for families as well.

Are there other support gorups that you know of? Share them in the comments!