Health Department recommends HIV testing for pregnant women

Print More

(Host) More pregnant women are expected to be tested for HIV under new guidelines set by the Vermont Health Department.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) Under existing rules, women are advised that they should be tested for the virus that causes AIDS.

But they have to agree to the test before it can be administered.

Now, physicians will be urged to include HIV in their tests as a matter of course unless the mother says she doesn’t want it done.

Surveys show that a majority of women do want to know if they’re positive or negative for the virus.

Doctor Donald Swartz, the Health Department’s medical director, says the goal is to persuade all women to consider HIV testing part of the norm.

(Swartz) “Just making that little shift, we expect, is going to change the uptake dramatically. It has in other states where this has been done.”

(Sneyd) Medical experts say many tests are performed at the beginning of a pregnancy – typically during a woman’s first visit to her doctor.

Most of the tests are done on blood samples and they’re designed to detect anemia, nutrition, genetics or sexually transmitted diseases.

Doctor Ira Bernstein, who deals with high-risk pregnancies at Fletcher Allen hospital, says a woman who knows her HIV status can protect her child.

(Bernstein) “Many women who have HIV don’t know it. And one of the great success stories in AIDS prevention has been the ability to prevent newborns from getting HIV in what we call vertical transmission, or that is mother-to-baby-transmission.”

(Sneyd) If a woman is HIV positive, she can be treated during her pregnancy to help reduce her viral load.

Extra precautions can be taken during delivery – and the baby can also be monitored more closely after the birth to determine if the child contracted HIV.

Bernstein says all of that dramatically reduces the chances that the virus will be transferred.

(Bernstein) “For all women who are infected and aren’t undergoing effective therapy, about one in four will transmit. And if you continue into breastfeeding, that number can go up as high as 40 percent.”

(Sneyd) AIDS service organizations agree with the new approach.

The guidelines went into effect this week.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

Comments are closed.