Background: The ability of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to reduce human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) RNA and DNA in breast milk has not been described.
Methods: We compared breast-milk HIV-1 RNA and DNA loads of women in Botswana who received HAART (nevirapine, lamivudine, and zidovudine) and women who did not receive HAART.
Results: Women in the HAART group received treatment for a median of 98 days (range, 67-222 days) at the time of breast-milk sampling; 23 (88%) of 26 had whole breast-milk HIV-1 RNA loads <50 copies/mL, compared with 9 (36%) of 25 women who did not receive HAART (P=.0001). This finding remained significant in a multivariate logistic-regression model (P = .0006). The whole-milk HIV-1 DNA load was unaffected by HAART. Of women who received HAART, 13 (50%) of 26 had HIV-1 DNA loads <10 copies/10(6) cells, compared with 15 (65%) of 23 who did not receive HAART (P = .39).
Conclusions: HAART suppressed cell-free HIV-1 RNA in breast milk and may therefore reduce mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV-1 via breast-feeding. However, HAART initiated during pregnancy or early after delivery had no apparent effect on cell-associated HIV-1 DNA loads in breast milk. Clinical trials to determine MTCT among breast-feeding women receiving HAART are needed.