Background: Mastitis and abscess in HIV-infected women increase the risk of breastfeeding transmission of HIV. Guidelines encourage women to stop breastfeeding on the affected breast and feed on the contralateral breast. However, impact of breast pathology on breast milk HIV dynamics is unknown.
Methods: HIV RNA was quantified in 211 breast milk samples collected before, during, and after a clinical mastitis or an abscess diagnosis from 38 HIV-infected women participating in a Zambian breastfeeding study. HIV RNA quantity was compared between affected and unaffected breasts over time using generalized estimating equation models. A sample of 115 women without breast pathology was selected as a control group.
Results: In the affected breast, breast milk HIV RNA quantity increased from the pre- to during-pathology period by log(10) 0.45 copies per milliliter [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.16 to 0.74], and after symptom resolution, HIV RNA levels were no different from prepathology levels (log10 -0.04 copies per milliliter 95% CI: -0.33 to 0.25). In the contralateral, unaffected breast, HIV RNA quantity did not significantly increase (log(10) 0.15 copies per milliliter, 95% CI: -0.41 to 0.10). Increase was more marked in women with abscess or with a greater number of mastitis symptoms. HIV RNA was not significantly different between affected and unaffected women, except at the time of diagnosis.
Conclusions: Breast milk HIV RNA increased modestly in the affected breast with unilateral mastitis or abscess and returned to prepathology levels with symptom resolution. Contralateral HIV RNA was not affected. Results support guidelines encouraging feeding from the contralateral breast to minimize the risk of HIV transmission associated with unilateral breast pathology.