Context: Postnatal transmission of human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV) via breastfeeding reverses gains achieved by perinatal antiretroviral interventions.
Objective: To compare the efficacy and safety of 2 infant feeding strategies for the prevention of postnatal mother-to-child HIV transmission.
Design, setting, and patients: A 2 x 2 factorial randomized clinical trial with peripartum (single-dose nevirapine vs placebo) and postpartum infant feeding (formula vs breastfeeding with infant zidovudine prophylaxis) interventions. In Botswana between March 27, 2001, and October 29, 2003, 1200 HIV-positive pregnant women were randomized from 4 district hospitals. Infants were evaluated at birth, monthly until age 7 months, at age 9 months, then every third month through age 18 months.
Intervention: All of the mothers received zidovudine 300 mg orally twice daily from 34 weeks' gestation and during labor. Mothers and infants were randomized to receive single-dose nevirapine or placebo. Infants were randomized to 6 months of breastfeeding plus prophylactic infant zidovudine (breastfed plus zidovudine), or formula feeding plus 1 month of infant zidovudine (formula fed).
Main outcome measures: Primary efficacy (HIV infection by age 7 months and HIV-free survival by age 18 months) and safety (occurrence of infant adverse events by 7 months of age) end points were evaluated in 1179 infants.
Results: The 7-month HIV infection rates were 5.6% (32 infants in the formula-fed group) vs 9.0% (51 infants in the breastfed plus zidovudine group) (P = .04; 95% confidence interval for difference, -6.4% to -0.4%). Cumulative mortality or HIV infection rates at 18 months were 80 infants (13.9%, formula fed) vs 86 infants (15.1% breastfed plus zidovudine) (P = .60; 95% confidence interval for difference, -5.3% to 2.9%). Cumulative infant mortality at 7 months was significantly higher for the formula-fed group than for the breastfed plus zidovudine group (9.3% vs 4.9%; P = .003), but this difference diminished beyond month 7 such that the time-to-mortality distributions through age 18 months were not significantly different (P = .21).
Conclusions: Breastfeeding with zidovudine prophylaxis was not as effective as formula feeding in preventing postnatal HIV transmission, but was associated with a lower mortality rate at 7 months. Both strategies had comparable HIV-free survival at 18 months. These results demonstrate the risk of formula feeding to infants in sub-Saharan Africa, and the need for studies of alternative strategies.
Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00197587.