HIV Can Be Transmitted Through Pre-Chewed Food

Armen Hareyan's picture

HIV can betransmitted to infants through food that is pre-chewed by an HIV-positiveparent or caregiver, CDC researchers said Wednesday at the 15th Conference on Retroviruses andOpportunistic Infections in Boston,the New York Times reports. Specific findings from the study have not been released, the Timesreports.

According to the Times, pre-chewing food most often occurs indeveloping countries, where commercially prepared infant food and blenders arenot available and caregivers need to soften food before giving it to an infant.The practice is rare in the U.S.but does occur among several racial and ethnic groups, according to a CDC studyon infant feeding. The virus is transmitted in blood in the saliva ofHIV-positive people who have inflammations or sores in their mouths throughcuts associated with teething in the infants' mouths (Altman, New YorkTimes, 2/7). Previous studies have linked pre-chewing to the spread ofother infections such as Helicobacter pylori, which causes stomach ailments,and streptococcal pharyngitis, which causes sore throats, the AP/Google.comreports (Strobbe, AP/, 2/6).


At the conference on Wednesday, CDC epidemiologist Kenneth Dominguez andcolleagues from St. Jude Children's ResearchHospital and the University of Miami said three cases of HIV transmitted through pre-chewing have beenidentified in the U.S. since 1993 (New York Times, 2/7). In atleast two of the cases, the infants' mothers were HIV-positive and had bleedinggums or mouth sores while they were pre-chewing food for their children(AP/, 2/6). The researchers ruled out other possible transmissionmodes, such as blood transfusions or breastfeeding, in all three cases (Dunham,Reuters, 2/6). In two of the cases, geneticstudies of the infants' viruses matched those of their mothers, according tothe Times (New York Times, 2/7).

All three of the children were teething and had inflamed gums when they contractedthe virus. According to the researchers, it might be necessary for both thecaregiver who pre-chewed food and the child to have inflammation or open soresin the mouth for the virus to be transmitted (AP/, 2/6). Theresearchers said that pre-chewing as a mode of HIV transmission "warrantsfurther investigation in order to continue reducing cases of HIV transmissionin the U.S.," adding that the findings "could have more significantimplications for developing countries." The researchers advised healthcare providers and HIV-positive caregivers to be aware of the risks ofpre-chewing. They also advised caregivers living with HIV/AIDS to not pre-chewfood for infants (Reuters, 2/6). The researchers also said thatthey reported the three cases in an effort to ask health care providers andfamily members to report suspected cases to officials to quantify the situation(New York Times, 2/7).

Kimberly Hagen of the Emory Center for AIDS Research said that programs in developingnations aimed at reducing pre-chewing among HIV-positive caregivers could benutritionally harmful for infants. "This would really take a lot ofthinking before you could say, 'We've had three cases in 11 years, so you haveto stop pre-chewing your child's food,'" Hagen said (AP/, 2/6).

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