Many children and families are affected by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). If your child has HIV, take comfort in knowing there is hope that he or she can live a healthy, productive life.
Human immunodeficiency virus causes HIV infection and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). It is a chronic viral illness that makes a child sick by attacking special cells in his or her immune system (the body’s defense against disease). As a result, the immune system becomes weakened and the body has trouble battling certain infections.
If your child has HIV, treatment involves commitment from the whole family. Your child will have to take medicines for the rest of his or her life and be seen frequently by doctors. As parents, it is important to know that children with HIV are not limited in any way from participating in school, sports or other childhood activities. However, they cannot donate blood or organs.
HIV is a chronic medical condition that is treatable but not curable. If left untreated, HIV can lead to infections such as pneumonia, chronic diarrhea, skin rashes, serious infections and failure to grow.
HIV is transmitted through:
- Mother to child transmission during pregnancy, delivery or breast-feeding
- Sexual contact with an HIV-infected person
- Sharing needles with someone who is HIV-positive
- Blood transfusion with HIV-contaminated blood products (this risk is now minimal due to current blood screening practices by blood banks)
HIV is not spread by:
- Contact with saliva, tears or sweat
- Casual contact such as shaking hands or hugging
- Normal contact at home or school
- Insect bites
Most children with HIV are infected during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding. Children infected outside of infancy may not have any symptoms while some adolescents may have mild flu-like symptoms.
Symptoms of HIV in infants and children may include:
- Failure to thrive or failure to gain weight or grow
- Oral thrush or severe diaper rash
- Ear infections
Symptoms of HIV in adolescents may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- Red rash on the torso
If your child has frequent infections, chronic skin rashes, swollen glands and/or fever, contact his or her doctor.
Diagnosis of HIV
Doctors at Riley at IU Health diagnose HIV using a common test for HIV called the antibody test. This test looks for antibodies in saliva or blood. If the test shows a positive result, more complex testing is done to confirm the diagnosis.
For infants under 1 year of age, doctors test for the presence of HIV genetic material in the body instead of looking for antibodies. If HIV is diagnosed, more testing evaluates the health of the child’s immune system and other organs
HIV infection rates for children have decreased in the United States due to better prevention and treatment. HIV testing for all mothers is an important part of routine prenatal care.
At Riley at IU Health, our pediatric HIV Program specializes in HIV healthcare for children. Our specialists treat 90 percent of Indiana's children who are HIV-infected. The program provides services to infants, children and teens exposed to HIV or who have HIV infection. It also offers ongoing counseling for children and families, education about HIV prevention and access to clinical trials.
Our team brings together pediatric infectious disease specialists, HIV-trained nurses, HIV pharmacists, family educators and social services experts to care for children with HIV. The HIV Program offers full resources to support you and your child.
The earlier HIV is detected, the more likely the treatment will be successful. Treatment begins with medicines called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) or combination antiretroviral therapy (cART). HAART attacks HIV in different ways, using combinations of at least three medicines.
Your child will take a combination of antiretroviral medicines for the rest of his or her life. It is important that your child take these medicines every day at the scheduled time. Skipping doses can cause the virus to become resistant to the medicines.
Once your child starts taking HIV medications, blood is drawn every three to four months. This helps doctors track the effectiveness of the medicines and look for any side effects. Successful treatment of a child with this infection involves the whole family. Our family-centered care for HIV is a partnership between your child, your family and our team.
Tell your child’s infectious disease specialist if another physician gives your child a prescription or an over-the-counter medicine. Also, remember to talk with your child’s pediatrician about immunizations your child needs for long-term health
Key Points to Remember
Key Points to Remember
- HIV is a chronic viral illness that weakens the body’s immune system.
- HIV is not spread by casual contact.
- HIV is treatable but not curable.
- If your child is diagnosed with HIV, start treatment early, stick to the medicine schedule and get follow-up care so your child lives a healthy life.
Support Services & Resources
Support Services & Resources
Visit these websites to learn more about HIV.
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
This government website provides information about HIV among pregnant women, infants and children.
Learn about the Ryan White Center for Infectious Disease and Global Health on the Indiana University School of Medicine website.
Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS at age 13. Learn how he and his mother fought for his right to attend school and how they became the voice of reason about HIV/AIDS.
Paige Rawl has been treated for her HIV status at the Ryan White Center for Pediatric Infectious Disease and Global Health since her diagnosis. Learn how she inspired communities with her bravery and commitment to help others.
Other Helpful Information
HIV Program Follow-Up Visits | What to Expect (Riley at IU Health). HIV follow-up visits are very important for your child's health. Learn what to expect during these appointments.
Beginning HIV Treatment (Riley at IU Health). Learn more about the specifics of starting HIV treatment.
HIV Medication Guidelines (Riley at IU Health). These guidelines cover the side effects of HIV medication and how to manage your child's medications.
Liquid HIV Medicines (Riley at IU Health). This guide is helpful for children who are prescribed liquid HIV medicines.
Tablet HIV Medicines (Riley at IU Health). This guide is helpful for children who are prescribed tablet HIV medicines.
In addition to our primary hospital location at the Academic Health Center in Indianapolis, IN, we have convenient locations to better serve our communities throughout the state.
Sort through 11 facilities offering Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) care by entering your city or zip below.
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