Initiation of Antiretroviral Therapy Before Pregnancy Reduces the Risk of Infection-related Hospitalization in Human Immunodeficiency Virus-exposed Uninfected Infants Born in a High-income Country

Clin Infect Dis. 2019 Mar 19;68(7):1193-1203. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciy673.


Background: Epidemiological studies conducted in low- and high-income countries showed that infants exposed to maternal human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have a high risk of severe infections. Immune alterations during fetal life have been proposed as a possible mechanism.

Methods: This prospective study assessed the relative risk of hospitalization for infection in HIV-exposed uninfected (HEU) infants as compared to HIV-unexposed (HU) infants born in a high-income country (HIC). Markers of monocyte activation and levels of pathogen-specific antibodies were measured at birth to identify correlates of infant susceptibility.

Results: There were 27 of 132 HEU infants and 14 of 123 HU infants hospitalized for infection during the first year of life (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] 2.33, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.10-4.97). Most of this increased risk was associated with the time of initiation of maternal antiretroviral therapy (ART). As compared to HU infants, the risk of hospitalization for infection of HEU infants was 4-fold higher when mothers initiated ART during pregnancy (aHR 3.84, 95% CI 1.69-8.71) and was not significantly increased when ART was initiated before pregnancy (aHR 1.42, 95% CI 0.58-3.48). The activation of newborn monocytes and the reduced transfer of maternal antibodies were most intense following ART initiation during pregnancy, and predicted the risk of infant hospitalization.

Conclusions: These observations indicate that initiation of maternal ART before pregnancy reduces the susceptibility of HEU infants born in a HIC to severe infections, and that this effect could be related to the prevention of immune alterations during fetal life.

Keywords: anti-retroviral therapy; immune activation; infant infections; maternal HIV; maternal antibodies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Retroviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Belgium / epidemiology
  • Developed Countries
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / drug therapy*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Retroviral Agents