Q. What is the day-to-day lifestyle like with an HIV positive child?
A. Children with HIV who receive medication lead normal healthy lives. They can play sports, have sleepovers, go to camp, attend daycare and public schools, etc. They look like other children and play like other children. They take medicine in the morning and evening, and the dosage is administered at the same time every day for full effectiveness and to prevent resistance to the prescription. Your child will have at least four doctor appointments per year with a specialist who will monitor the CD4 counts and viral load in the blood to be sure the medication is working properly.
Q. What are the medical concerns associated with pediatric HIV?
A. Mostly taking daily medicine and seeing a specialist doctor every three months. Your doctor will determine when the child’s immune system is strong enough to get “live” vaccines (such as chickenpox and MMR).
Q. Do any special safety precautions need to be taken?
A. ‘Universal Precautions’ should be used within your home, just as they are at schools and day care centers. A barrier should be used when touching blood, such as a towel or gloves. Hands and other skin surfaces should be washed as soon as possible if blood has been in contact with the skin. Surfaces soiled with blood will be washed with soap and water as you would normally. Some parents carry a plastic sandwich bag with Bandaids and hand sanitizer in it to be prepared for occasional scrapes.
Q. How long do children with HIV live?
A. Life expectancy is close to normal with proper treatment. The devastation we see in the news is due to lack of treatment abroad, although it is now getting better. Children born with HIV in the 1980s in the Western world who have been diligent about treatment are alive today and thriving (now nearing 30). Doctors claim HIV+ kids can expect to live as long as any other child with a long term chronic illness, such as diabetes, although HIV is generally considered a more manageable condition.
Q. What about HIV and sex/reproduction?
A. As children progresses through adolescence into adulthood, safe sex becomes an important topic, although it is an important topic with all adolescents. HIV positive women bearing children in the United States have less than a 2% chance of passing the virus along to their newborn when the appropriate anti retroviral drugs are administered during pregnancy and after childbirth. This means that children with HIV can grow up and have healthy children of their own. HIV positive men can also procreate.
Q. How does the adoption process differ for HIV+ children vs. HIV- ?
A. Everything is the same. In the past, a visa waiver was required, but that is no longer in existence as of January 4, 2010.
Q. What about disclosing a child’s HIV positive status?
A. Disclosure is a sensitive topic which varies greatly among families. You should disclose to your dentist and other health care providers to ensure your child’s health stays optimal. You should also teach your child to disclose to their sex partner(s) when they become sexually active. Daycare centers, schools and athletic coaches practice ‘universal precautions’ so your child is not a risk to anyone, and there are no cases of transmission in these settings. The Health Departments in SC and IL will inform the school district that there is an HIV+ child without disclosing identity, and you do not need to disclose to your daycare or school if you do not wish to. There are many anti-discrimination laws in place to protect HIV+ people and to ensure they are treated equal to HIV- people in every way. Most families feel it is very important to disclose HIV status to close friends and family so the child will have a safe haven in which to speak openly and know that they are loved and accepted. Some families feel it is important to disclose HIV status on a much broader scale by informing playmates, daycare, church, school teachers, school nurses, babysitters and others. These families feel it is very important that their child not to feel shame, nor to live with a ‘secret’ (although families who do not disclose feel it is more an issue of privacy than secrecy). In most of these cases, they feel it is important to talk about their child’s HIV status, not to ‘protect’ the other party (since they are not at risk), but to ‘create awareness’ about the realities of HIV and to hopefully replace the concerns and misconceptions.
Q. What happens if a child gets a cold or flu?
A. According to Dr. Joel Gallant in ‘100 Questions and Answers about HIV/AIDS’, the symptoms and duration of the illness are the same as everyone else and people with HIV are at no greater risk from complications. He states that we don’t need to do anything special for a cold or flu and the usual over-the-counter cold remedies are safe and don’t interact with HIV meds. The child should not take antibiotics for viruses such as cold and flu, but they should take antibiotics for bacterial infections such as strep throat, sinusitis or pneumonia.