Background: Three cases of pediatric HIV transmission attributed to the feeding practice of premasticating food for children have been reported. The degree of risk that premastication poses for pediatric HIV transmission and the prevalence of this behavior among HIV-infected caregivers is unknown.
Methods: During December 2009 to February 2010, we conducted a case-control investigation of late-diagnosed HIV infection in children at 6 HIV clinics using in-person and telephone interviews. A cross-sectional investigation of premastication was conducted in concert with this case-control investigation.
Results: We compared 11 case-patients to 35 HIV-exposed controls of similar age. Sixteen (35%) of 46 children were fed premasticated food, 10 (22%) by an HIV-infected caregiver. Twenty-seven percent of case-patients received premasticated food from an HIV-infected caregiver compared with 20% of controls (odds ratio = 1.5; 95% confidence interval = 0.3 to 7.1). In the cross-sectional investigation, 48 (31%) of 154 primary caregivers of children aged ≥6 months reported the children received premasticated food from themselves or someone else. The prevalence of premastication decreased with increasing caregiver age and had been used to feed children aged 1-36 months.
Conclusions: Premastication, a potential route of HIV transmission to children, was a common practice of caregivers. Public health officials and health care providers should educate the public about the potential risk of disease transmission via premastication.