No Shelby County babies born with HIV in 2011 - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

No Shelby County babies born with HIV in 2011

(WMC-TV) – Early indications show a true milestone has been reached in the fight against HIV in Shelby County.

There were no babies infected with HIV born in Shelby County in 2011. It's the first time that's happened in years.

"I always dreamed of having children," said Carole.

But she thought that dream was crushed when she learned she was HIV positive.

"When I found out I was positive, I had the impression – ‘Oh God, I will never be able to have kids,'" she said. "It was the only thing that went through my mind - was that I won't be able to have kids."

Carole didn't know that being infected with HIV didn't necessarily mean she would transfer the virus to her children.

"This is a preventable condition," said Dr. Edwin Thorpe, an associate professor at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine and an OBGYN who delivers babies at the Med. "Once we can identify women who have the infection that therapy can be instituted prior to delivery, during delivery, and the infant can receive medication for what we call prophylaxis."

The mother receives regular treatment during the pregnancy, an IV drip during labor filled with medication to fight transmission and the infant receives six weeks of oral treatments after delivery.

"When that's all in place, the likelihood of transmission is less than one in 100," said Thorpe.

It worked for Carole and her son and they're not alone.

Shelby County Health Department records show in 2010 fewer than five children were born who were infected with HIV.

Early indications show that no newborns were infected with the virus in 2011, though the health department is still collecting data.

The health department's chief epidemiologist says 2011's zero infection rate is not out of the realm of possibility, but cautions that Shelby Countians born in other states could change the preliminary numbers.

"This is just an incredible statistic, that we had no babies last year and only one or two in previous years," said Dr. Betty Dupont, executive director of Hope House. "It says a great thing about our city and the what our city offers."

Hope House is a day care and pre-school for children impacted by HIV and AIDS.

"When I first started here over 13 years ago, about one third of our children were actually infected with the disease," she said. "Now I believe we just have one child who is positive among our children here."

The rate of infected newborns in Shelby County has dropped 25-percent since the mid-1990's.

Doctors credit a Tennessee law that requires OBGYN's to offer the HIV test to pregnant women. Patients can refuse, but Dr. Thorpe says they usually don't.

"If they decline, well, we can't force the test," he said. "However, there's an option afterwards to test the baby with a rapid test, and we can uncover (their) status at that time.

"If we have someone who presents in advance labor, we now have a test that we have drawn on a stat basis - then we can get this in a matter of 15 to 20 minutes. That makes a big difference because medication can be started, or more importantly, the infant can have therapy started."

It made a big difference for Carole's son who is HIV-free.

"For no children in 2011… that is just amazing," she said. "It's wonderful. At least there's one year worth of children in Shelby County who will not have to deal with the stigma of being born positive."

The anti-viral medications given during labor are so effective, infected women can frequently go through natural childbirth instead of a C-section.

Dr. Thorpe says HIV infection is still a problem in Shelby County.

He says most of the infected mothers who come through his delivery room contracted HIV through heterosexual sex.

The Shelby County Health Department should have its final numbers by June.

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