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Nutritional Factors and Vertical Transmission of HIV-1 Epidemiology and Potential Mechanisms


aAddress for correspondence: Dr. Wafaie Fawzi, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, 665 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115. Voice: 617-432-2086; fax: 617-432-2435.


Abstract: Transmission of HIV from mothers to children may occur through the transplacental, intrapartum, or breastfeeding routes. Adequate nutritional status may reduce vertical transmission by affecting several maternal or fetal and child risk factors for transmission including enhancing systemic immune function in the mother or fetus/child; reducing the rate of clinical, immunological, or virological progression in the mother; reducing viral load or the risk of viral shedding in lower genital secretions or breast milk; reducing the risks of low birth weight or prematurity; or by maintaining the integrity of the fetus/child gastrointestinal integrity. In prospective observational studies, low plasma vitamin A levels were associated with higher risks of vertical transmission. However, findings from randomized, controlled trials suggest that supplements of vitamin A or other vitamins are unlikely to have an effect on vertical transmission during pregnancy or the intrapartum period. The effect of other nutrient supplements, such as zinc and selenium, is unknown. Similarly, whether nutrition supplements of mothers during the breastfeeding period has an effect on transmission is unknown. The potential benefits of direct supplementation of children born to HIV-infected women on transmission of HIV, as well as on the risk and severity of childhood infections and mortality, are also important to examine.