Rapid HIV Testing at Hospitals Could Reduce Number of Infected Babies

A new collaboration between at least ten local hospitals and the Harris County Hospital District could have dramatic impact on the number of babies born infected with HIV. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, those hospitals are part of a pilot project aimed at testing and then treating both HIV positive mothers and their newborn babies.

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Some expectant mothers don't know their HIV status before they deliver and sometimes pass the HIV virus on to their newborn babies. The trick is to find out a mother's status before she delivers using rapid testing and then treat her with HIV drugs during labor and administer those same drugs to the baby once it's born. Dr. Judy Levison, the physician coordinator for the Harris County Women's Program at Thomas Street Health Center, says up until now, things haven't always worked that way.

"With the standard tests the results often didn't come back until a day or two after delivery, which means we miss the chance to treat the woman while she's still in labor with antiretroviral therapy and immediately start the baby on medication."

The Harris County Hospital District has begun the Texas Rapid-Testing Implementation at Delivery program. It aims to train labor and delivery staffs in ten local hospitals how to administer rapid HIV tests and post-delivery drug treatments. Pete Rodriguez is the District's Nursing Coordinator.

"Some of the women we've interviewed were under the assumption that this test was already being done and that's why it's important that the hospitals become proactive and do this test rather than expecting a woman to ask for it."

The rapid HIV testing will start at Ben Taub and LBJ hospitals and expand to eight other private sector facilities. 25 HIV-positive babies were born in Harris County between 2002 and 2006, but Thomas Street Nursing Coordinator Anna Moore would like those numbers to go much lower by getting expectant mothers tested and treated earlier.

"Here's a way to capture those that don't get that and lower those numbers and hopefully lower them down to zero. Our ultimate goal is no babies born HIV positive."

Ten-month-old Journet Blades is a healthy, happy little girl, with a huge smile and a proud mother. Melissa Blades found out she was HIV positive during her pregnancy but got the treatment needed to keep her baby HIV-free.

"I knew that I could have a better chance of having a baby but I didn't know that there were medications that I could take to help me better through the pregnancy and even if I hadn't got there on time, if I got there before she was born I was still able to do something about it."

Last year, 252 women in Houston with HIV delivered and the majority of their babies were free of the virus.

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