Is AIDS common in children? Even the thought of having a child with AIDS can be scary and you, as a parent, certainly want to know about AIDS in children and how this disease can affect them and how you can protect your child against it. Protect yourself from this disease, learn more. In this article from Dr. Salam’s Department of Children’s Diseases and Health, we will discuss the causes of AIDS in children, symptoms, treatments and preventive measures.
AIDS statistics in children
According to the report of the United Nations Joint Program on AIDS (UNAIDS), about 1.8 million children under the age of 15 have been affected by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Also, their report shows that the rate of HIV infection among children has decreased by 8% since 2016.
What is HIV or AIDS?
HIV is a type of virus that causes a disease called immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. The virus attacks the body’s immune system, specifically CD4 cells, also known as white blood cells or T cells, which are an important part of the body’s immune system. After infecting a person, the virus slowly destroys the body’s ability to fight infection.
How AIDS spreads in children
Children can get the HIV virus while they are in the womb or during breastfeeding, from an infected mother (mother-to-child transmission). The virus can also be transmitted in the following ways:
- Blood transfusion and when the blood of a person infected with this infection is injected into another healthy person.
- Using a contaminated syringe in hospitals or for tattooing
- Sexual abuse including forced sexual interaction with penetration
- Sex (especially among teenagers). A person infected with the AIDS virus can transmit this virus to his sexual partner.
- Shaving (scratching the skin for a permanent and permanent modification to the body such as tattooing and piercing) using a contaminated needle.
Note that the HIV virus cannot be spread through sweat, saliva, shared use of equipment, food or clothing, and insect bites. Being aware of the symptoms of this infection will help you seek medical intervention in time.
What are the signs and symptoms of AIDS in children?
The signs and symptoms of HIV are similar to common viral infections. They can be classified into mild, moderate and severe categories as explained in the table below:
|Swelling of the parotid gland (salivary gland in the front of the ears)||Oral thrush that lasts more than two months||Yeast infection in the digestive tract or in the lungs|
|Swollen lymph nodes||Pneumonitis: swelling and inflammation of lung tissues||Severe bacterial infections such as blood infection, meningitis or pneumonia within two years|
|Frequent or persistent ear infections||Persistent and chronic fever that lasts more than a month||Malignant injuries or tumors|
|Dermatitis that causes itchy skin||Hepatitis that occurs due to inflammation of the liver caused by infection||Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (the most common type of AIDS-related pneumonia)|
|Frequent or persistent sinus infections||Frequent or persistent diarrhea||Encephalopathy: inflammation of the brain|
|Enlargement of the spleen and liver (hepatomegaly), which causes swelling of the abdomen.||Chicken pox is complicated|
Other symptoms that may indicate possible infection with HIV infection include:
- Neurological dysfunction such as microcephaly (head size smaller than normal)
- Nervous disorder
- Hypertonia (decreased muscle mass that causes difficulty in bending and moving muscles)
- Delay in reaching important life stages or mental confusion
- Painful boils with blisters on chest and back
If a child is infected with HIV and AIDS, he may show the following symptoms:
- Weight loss or difficulty gaining weight
- Permanent pimples
- Swollen lymph nodes (part of the immune system that filters out bacteria and viruses)
- Chronic and severe oral thrush (fungal infection of the mouth, skin and nails)
- Chronic diarrhea
- long fever
- lack of energy
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Occurrence of unusual infections
- Short-term memory loss
How is AIDS diagnosed in children?
HIV antibody test is performed in children aged 18 months and older who may show symptoms of HIV infection. The test is usually done in two stages:
- Enzyme dependent immunocompatibility screening (EIA)
- Western blot test to confirm HIV antibody
An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (EIA) test involves testing blood or saliva samples taken from the patient’s gums and inside the mouth to determine HIV antibodies. Western blot test is also a type of blood test that involves isolating and identifying blood proteins that indicate HIV infection.
Both of these tests must provide positive results to confirm the diagnosis of the disease. If the child is exposed to AIDS through other sources, such as contaminated needles or syringes or sexual abuse, and shows symptoms, but the test results are negative, the test should be repeated later.
If the type of diagnosis confirms the infection of the AIDS virus, treatment should be done immediately.
How is AIDS treated in children?
Children with HIV should be treated early and as soon as possible. Treatment includes the use of antiviral drugs that can slow the progression of the disease and weaken the immune system. This medicine is available in the form of syrup for children, however, considering that they must be taken in large quantities and always kept in the refrigerator due to their short shelf life, they may not always be practical and useful.
Antiviral drugs that are given to pregnant women in the early stages of pregnancy greatly reduce the chance of contracting the HIV virus in the baby.
Also, children under 15 years of age can use the benefits of taking a type of antibiotic called cotrimoxazole, which can prevent childhood infections. The findings have shown that with the use of this type of antibiotic, the death rate in children with HIV has decreased by more than 40%.
Can children with HIV receive routine immunizations?
The answer to this question is positive. Immunization can prevent disease in children with HIV infection, although their response to vaccination may vary depending on their level of immunity. The World Health Organization (WHO) shows whether children with or without HIV symptoms can receive regular immunizations by drawing the immunization chart below.
|vaccine||HIV infection without symptoms||HIV infection indicates the symptoms of the disease|
|Hepatitis A vaccine||Positive||Positive|
|Hepatitis B vaccine||Positive||Positive|
|Haemophilus influenzae type B||Positive||Positive|
|Varicella zoster virus||Positive||negative|
However, it is better to visit a pediatrician and consult with your doctor before starting a vaccination program for a child with HIV.
How to prevent AIDS in children?
This infection has been completely eliminated in high-income countries thanks to timely prevention and testing and treatment options. However, the situation in sub-Saharan Africa is still difficult and neglected.
Here are some measures to prevent HIV infection in children in African and South Asian countries:
The best way to prevent HIV in children is to prevent the transmission of this virus from mother to child. Taking antiviral drugs in the early stages of pregnancy can help maintain the immune system, promote growth and development, and increase lifespan. Also, children who had perinatal infections and were treated with drugs showed an increase in life expectancy by 80% or more.
If the mother is HIV-positive during pregnancy, a cesarean delivery is performed to prevent the child from being infected with the HIV virus through the birth canal. Such mothers should not breastfeed their children and should use complementary foods.
If a child is interested in getting a tattoo or body piercing, make sure to contact a professional who follows all safety guidelines and uses special equipment for this procedure. Ideally, children under the age of 18 should not get tattoos, although some parents may want their child’s ears or nose pierced.
When your child needs to be vaccinated or given an injection for any reason, make sure the doctor uses a new, unused syringe to prevent the spread of infection.
Below we answer some common questions about HIV in children.
Frequently asked questions about AIDS in children
How likely are HIV-infected children to survive?
Unfortunately, about 25 to 30 percent of children, if they are not treated on time, will be infected before the age of one year, 50 to 60 percent of children who have HIV symptoms at the beginning of their lives, but If they are not diagnosed or treated in time, they die at the age of two. However, in children who receive antiviral drugs on time, the death rate is reduced by fivefold or more.
In high-income countries, more than 80% of children with HIV survive and live for more than six years.
How does HIV affect a child’s growth and development?
Studies show that HIV infection in children can delay their physical and mental development. Children who are HIV positive have neurological problems, cognitive retardation, learning problems, and speech and language problems. Also, this virus can have a physiological effect, which means that the child has trouble gaining weight.
In other words, it is not necessary for the child to be delayed in both cognitive and motor development. They can only face a developmental delay that may appear as early as age 2.
HIV can make the child vulnerable to various diseases. However, through preventive measures and ensuring that the child is not exposed to unsanitary practices in hospitals or other settings, the disease can be controlled. Also, timely treatment can help increase the child’s life.