The effects of exposure to HIV in neonates at a referral hospital in South Africa

BMC Pediatr. 2021 Nov 3;21(1):485. doi: 10.1186/s12887-021-02969-6.


Background: Fewer infants are infected with HIV through mother-to-child transmission, making HIV-exposed but uninfected (HEU) infants a growing population. HIV-exposure seems to affect immunology, early growth and development, and is associated with higher morbidity and mortality rates. Currently, there is a lack of information regarding the clinical effects of HIV-exposure during the neonatal period.

Objectives: To identify a possible difference in mortality and common neonatal morbidities in HEU neonates compared to HIV-unexposed neonates.

Methods: This was a retrospective, descriptive study of all neonates admitted to the neonatal unit at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2018. HEU neonates were compared to HIV-unexposed neonates.

Results: There were 3236 neonates included, where 855 neonates were HEU. The HEU neonates had significantly lower birth weight and gestational age. The HEU neonates had higher rates of neonatal sepsis (19.8% vs 14.2%, OR 1.49, p < 0.001), specifically for late onset sepsis, and required more respiratory support. NCPAP and invasive ventilation was more common in the HEU group (36.3% vs 31.3% required NCPAP, p = 0.008, and 20.1% vs 15,0% required invasive ventilation, p < 0.001). Chronic lung disease was more common among HIV-exposed neonates (12.2% vs 8.7%, OR 1.46, p = 0.003). The difference in mortality rates between the study groups was not significant (10.8% of HEU neonates and 13.3% of HIV-unexposed).

Conclusions: HEU neonates had higher rates of neonatal sepsis, particularly late-onset sepsis, required more respiratory support and had higher rates of chronic lung disease. Mortality of HEU neonates was not different HIV-unexposed neonates.

Keywords: HIV positive mother; HIV-exposed neonate; HIV-exposed uninfected; HIV-unexposed neonate; Low and middle-income countries; South Africa; Neonatal morbidity; Neonatal mortality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious* / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • South Africa / epidemiology