Background: Many developing countries have not implemented the AIDS Clinical Trials Group 076 zidovudine regimen for prevention of perinatal HIV-1 transmission because of its complexity and cost. We investigated the safety and efficacy of short-course oral zidovudine administered during late pregnancy and labour.
Methods: In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, HIV-1-infected pregnant women at two Bangkok hospitals were randomly assigned placebo or one zidovudine 300 mg tablet twice daily from 36 weeks' gestation and every 3 h from onset of labour until delivery. Mothers were given infant formula and asked not to breastfeed. The main endpoint was babies' HIV-1-infection status, tested with HIV-1-DNA PCR at birth, 2 months, and 6 months. We measured maternal plasma viral concentrations by RNA PCR.
Findings: Between May, 1996, and December, 1997, 397 women were randomised; 393 gave birth to 395 live-born babies. Median duration of antenatal treatment was 25 days, and median number of doses during labour was three. 99% of women took at least 90% of scheduled antenatal doses. Adverse events were similar in the study groups. Of 392 babies with at least one PCR test, 55 tested positive: 18 in the zidovudine group and 37 in the placebo group. The estimated transmission risks were 9.4% (95% CI 5.2-13.5) on zidovudine and 18.9% (13.2-24.2) on placebo (p=0.006; efficacy 50.1% [15.4-70.6]). Between enrolment and delivery, women in the zidovudine group had a mean decrease in viral load of 0.56 log. About 80% of the treatment effect was explained by lowered maternal viral concentrations at delivery.
Interpretation: A short course of twice-daily oral zidovudine was safe and well tolerated and, in the absence of breastfeeding, can lessen the risk for mother-to-child HIV-1 transmission by half. This regimen could prevent many HIV-1 infections during late pregnancy and labour in less-developed countries unable to implement the full 076 regimen.