Prevalence and determinants of HIV shedding in breast milk during continued breastfeeding among Zambian mothers not on antiretroviral treatment (ART): A cross-sectional study
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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The risk of postnatal HIV transmission exists throughout the breastfeeding period. HIV shedding in breast milk beyond six months has not been studied extensively. The aim of this study was to determine prevalence and determinants of HIV shedding in breast milk during continued breastfeeding A cross-sectional study was nested in the PROMISE-PEP trial in Lusaka, Zambia to analyze breast milk samples collected from both breasts at week 38 post-partum (mid-way during continued breastfeeding). We measured concurrent HIV deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and HIV ribonucleic acid (RNA) as proxies for cell-associated HIV (CAV) and cell-free HIV (CFV) shedding in breast milk respectively. Participants’ socio-demographic date, concurrent blood test results, sub clinical mastitis test results and contraceptive use data were available. Logistic regression models were used to identify determinants of HIV shedding in breast milk (detecting either CAV or CFV). The prevalence of HIV shedding in breast milk at 9 months post-partum was 79.4% (95%CI: 74.0 – 84.0). CAV only, CFV only and both CAV and CFV were detectable in 13.7%, 17.3% and 48.4% mothers, respectively. The odds of shedding HIV in breast milk decreased significantly with current use of combined oral contraceptives (AOR: 0.37; 95%CI: 0.17 – 0.83) and increased significantly with low CD4 count (AOR: 3.47; 95%CI: 1.23 – 9.80), unsuppressed plasma viral load (AOR: 6.27; 95%CI: 2.47 – 15.96) and severe sub-clinical mastitis (AOR: 12.56; 95%CI: 2.48 – 63.58). This study estimated that about 80% of HIV infected mothers not on ART shed HIV in breast milk during continued breastfeeding. Major factors driving this shedding were low CD4 count, unsuppressed plasma viral load and severe sub-clinical mastitis. The inverse relationship between breast milk HIV and use of combined oral contraceptives needs further clarification. Continued shedding of CAV may contribute to residual postnatal transmission of HIV in mothers on successful ART.