AIDS expert cites new opportunities to prevent HIV infection in pregnancy

Saturday, February 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Treating HIV-positive women early in their pregnancy can dramatically reduce the chances of transmitting the virus to their babies, the government's top AIDS expert said Saturday.

``There's very little reason for an HIV baby to be born in this country,'' said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci highlighted the changing nature of the AIDS epidemic in a speech to a mostly black audience at a local Baptist church.

``It is not a disease of young and middle-aged gay men,'' he said. ``The epidemic has shifted all the way over to where it was not 20 years ago.''

He said blacks have been infected with the disease at a rate 10 times higher than whites and other races.

But Fauci said that with proper care and early treatment, doctors can prevent HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from being spread to a fetus in the vast majority of cases.

The rate of infection from mother to child is less than 1 percent when the woman is tested and treated soon in the pregnancy, he said.

``The most tragic thing is when we see a pregnant woman coming in ... right before she's getting ready to deliver, and only then finds out.''

Fauci also said women, particularly young minority women, are typically infected in monogamous relationships, not through promiscuous behavior on their part. One in four new cases of HIV-AIDS is heterosexually transmitted, he said.

Deborah Mathis, a nationally syndicated columnist, said blacks have to mount a tougher fight against the epidemic with politicians and public health officials, and must do more themselves.

``I think that this is an emergency and perhaps we ought to consider getting a little ugly again,'' Mathis said. ``We have a lot to fight here. We have to fight our own denial and our own ignorance in our community.''