Cell-Free Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 in Breast Milk

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Breast-feeding may be an important route of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) vertical transmission in settings where it is routinely practiced. To define the prevalence and quantity of HIV-1 in cell-free breast milk, samples from HIV-1-seropositive women were analyzed by quantitative competitive reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (QC-RT-PCR). HIV-1 RNA was detected in 29 (39%) of 75 specimens tested. Of these 29 specimens, 16 (55%) had levels that were near the detection limit of the assay (240 copies/mL), while 6 (21%) had >900 copies/mL. The maximum concentration of HIV-1 RNA detected was 8100 copies/mL. The prevalence of cell-free HIV-1 was higher in mature milk (47%) than in colostrum (27%, P = 0.1). Because mature milk is consumed in large quantities, these data suggest that cell-free HIV-1 in breast milk may contribute to vertical transmission of HIV-1.

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