Testing for HIV in pregnancy enables measures to be taken to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission and for the woman to be offered treatment and psychosocial support.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a blood-borne infection that is initially asymptomatic but involves gradual compromise of immune function, eventually leading to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The time between HIV infection and development of AIDS ranges from a few months to 17 years in untreated patients . Undiagnosed HIV infection during pregnancy has serious implications for the health of both the woman and her child. Early HIV diagnosis can reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission and the rate of disease progression in the mother .
33.1.1 HIV in Australia
- Rates of diagnosis of HIV: The number of notifications of newly diagnosed HIV among women in Australia has remained stable for the past 10 years and was 0.7 per 100,000 women in 2016 . In 2016, notification rates were more than three times higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women than among Australian-born non-Indigenous women (1.1 vs 0.3 per 100,000) .
- Geographical distribution: Recent trends in the population rate of newly diagnosed HIV have differed across jurisdictions. Over the past 10 years (2007–2016) rates per 100,000 fluctuated in Victoria (range 4.4 to 5.3; 2016 rate 5.0), Queensland (range 3.9 to 5.3; 2016 rate 4.1), Western Australia (range 3.0 to 4.3; 2016 rate 3.6), Tasmania (1.0 to 4.2), the Northern Territory (2.6 to 8.1) and the Australian Capital Territory (range 1.8 to 4.2; 2016 rate 3.0) and declined in New South Wales (from 5.8 to 4.2) .
- Country of origin: In overseas born populations, HIV notification rates per 100,000 in 2016 were 17.3 for people born in the Americas (North and South America), 17.1 for people born in South-East Asia, 10.9 for people born in sub-Saharan Africa and 7.3 for people born in North-East Asia and .
- Risk factors: Transmission of HIV in Australia continues to occur primarily through sexual contact between men. In 2015, 20% of new HIV diagnoses were attributed to heterosexual sex and 3% to injecting drug use . Of new diagnoses attributed to heterosexual sex, 36% were in people from high-prevalence countries or with partners from high prevalence countries.
- Perinatal exposure: Among 223 women with HIV who gave birth in the 5-year period 2012–2016, the transmission rate to newborns was 2%, compared to 39% in the period 1985–1991 and 28% in 1992–1996 . In the past 10 years, the transmission rate has dropped from 9% in 2007 to 0% in 2016.
33.1.2 Risks associated with HIV infection in pregnancy
Globally, most children with HIV acquire infection through mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy, during birth or through breastfeeding . Maternal viral load is a strong independent determinant of transmission risk .
33.2 Testing for HIV infection in pregnancy
Universal testing for HIV in pregnancy is recommended in the United Kingdom , the United States and Canada . These policies are based on the availability of accurate diagnostic tests and effectiveness of antiretroviral treatment in preventing mother-to-child transmission. They also reflect the fact that testing based on risk factors would miss a substantial proportion of women with HIV .
33.2.1 Diagnostic accuracy of tests
Tests for HIV diagnosis in pregnant women include:
- standard tests: the enzyme immunoassay and Western blot protocol is highly (>99%) sensitive and specific
- rapid HIV tests, which have similar accuracy and provide results within hours without requiring a return visit , with blood-based tests having greater sensitivity than tests using oral fluids .
The sensitivities and specificities of various commercial HIV assays can be found at the Therapeutic Goods Administration website.
33.2.2 Interventions to prevent mother-to-child transmission
Cochrane reviews into the effectiveness of interventions in preventing mother-to-child transmission have found that:
- short courses of certain antiretroviral medicines are effective and are not associated with any safety concerns in the short term
- caesarean section before labour and before ruptured membranes is effective among women with HIV not taking antiretrovirals or taking only zidovudine
- vitamin A supplementation is not effective in preventing transmission
- there is no evidence of an effect of vaginal disinfection
- complete avoidance of breastfeeding is effective in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV
- if breastfeeding is initiated, the combination of exclusive breastfeeding during the first few months of life and extended antiretroviral prophylaxis to the infant is effective .
Prospective cohort studies and meta-analyses have not found a significant association between antiretroviral treatments and intrauterine growth restriction (n=8,192), congenital anomalies (n=8,576) , or preterm birth (n=20,426) .
Recommended interventions appear to be acceptable to pregnant women and are associated with mother-to-child transmission rates of 1% to 2% HIV was high .. In Australia between 1982 and 2005, uptake of interventions to reduce mother-to-child transmission of
Routinely offer and recommend HIV testing at the first antenatal visit as effective interventions are available to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission.
Approved by NHMRC in December 2011; expires December 2016
A system of clear referral paths ensures that pregnant women who are diagnosed with an HIV infection are managed and treated by the appropriate specialist teams.
Approved by NHMRC in December 2011; expires December 2016
33.3 Pre-test and post-test discussions
Pre- and post-test discussions are an integral part of HIV testing.
33.3.1 Considerations before testing
Providing information and support associated with testing aims to minimise the personal and social impact of HIV infection. The Australian Department of Health and Ageing HIV testing guidelines recommend that :
- antenatal testing only be performed with the informed consent of the woman
- all women contemplating pregnancy or seeking antenatal care be made aware of the benefits of diagnosis of HIV infection and management, and prevention strategies available for both the mother and the baby
- women receive materials (in written and other formats) outlining the tests that will be offered antenatally and explaining the testing procedure
- women with limited literacy or for whom English is a second language receive appropriate educational resources (eg using media such as video, audio, multimedia or in languages other than English)
- women with a first language other than English be offered access to accredited interpreting services.
Women most at risk of HIV may decline testing or may not access testing and available interventions . Women who decline testing should be given opportunities to discuss any concerns.
33.3.2 Considerations after testing
Women who accept testing may experience anxiety while waiting for the initial test result or while waiting for results of repeat testing.
Unexpected detection of HIV can result in distress, which is exacerbated in the context of pregnancy. Health professionals delivering the test result should use their best judgement when deciding the most appropriate way to deliver the test result .
33.4 Testing in rural and remote areas
Rapid tests improve the availability of HIV testing in situations where there is limited access to pathology services and returning for results may be difficult . However, the use of these tests should be limited to situations where :
- testing is conducted in, or backed up by, a clinical setting
- testing is conducted under the auspice of a National Association of Testing Authorities/Royal College of Pathologists of Australia medical testing accredited laboratory
- reliable Therapeutic Goods Administration approved rapid tests are available
- high quality information on the tests and their use is available and provided
- the health professional performing the test is suitably trained in conducting and interpreting the test and has the skills to provide pre- and post-test information/discussion (if conducted outside an accredited laboratory)
- quality assurance programs are available to ensure ongoing competency of healthcare professionals performing the tests.
33.5 Practice summary: HIV
Early in antenatal care.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health worker
- multicultural health worker.
- Discuss HIV testing
Explain that it is important to find out whether a woman has HIV because of the risk of transmission to the baby. Testing also gives the woman the opportunity to receive appropriate treatments.
- Document and follow-up
Note the results of HIV testing in the woman’s record and have a follow-up system in place so women who have HIV have access to counselling to discuss the test results and available interventions to prevent transmission during pregnancy.
- Take a holistic approach
If a woman is found to have HIV, specialist advice on management is required. Other considerations include psychosocial support, contact tracing, partner testing, testing for other sexually transmitted infections and continuing follow-up.
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