Violence Exposure Worsens Health Outcomes in Kids with Perinatal HIV

Exposure to violence during childhood can make perinatal human immunodeficiency virus (PHIV) even worse.

The risk of perinatal human immunodeficiency virus (PHIV), otherwise known as mother-to-child transmission, can be reduced to 1% or less with the proper use of antiretroviral therapy (ART). However, for those who do contract the virus, exposure to violence can make the condition worse.

A collaborative team led by Deborah Kacanek, ScD, from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, examined the impact of exposure to violence in childhood on health outcomes related to PHIV.

The researchers examined 268 adolescents ages 8 to 15 (53% girls; 21% white; 42% with household income of less than $20,000 per year), as described in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

When data was evaluated on the youths and caregivers, the report revealed that 34% of the children reported being exposed to violence within the past year. In addition, 30% of the children had a caregiver who had been assaulted as an adult.

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Nearly a quarter of the kids with PHIV had an unsuppressed viral load (RNA greater than 400 copies/mL) and 22% of the kids had CD4% less than 25%. Kids who were exposed to violence within the past year, whether directly or indirectly, had higher odds of unsuppressed viral load and CD4% of less than 25%.

PHIV can occur during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or breastfeeding. Therefore, it’s important for pregnant women to be tested for the virus as soon as possible. Exposure to violence has been shown to negatively impact health, and now it appears that the same is true specifically for PHIV.

“Reducing violence and providing support to youth with violence exposure and PHIV may improve health outcomes,” the team determined.

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