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In the absence of treatment, rapid progression to AIDS occurs in approximately 20% of HIV-1-infected infants over the first year of life. The prognosis of these children has considerably improved with highly active antiretroviral therapy. As data from well resourced countries are lacking, the objective of this collaborative study was to evaluate the impact of early treatment in vertically infected infants.Children born to HIV-infected mothers between 1 September 1996 and 31 December 2004, who were diagnosed with HIV and free of AIDS before 3 months, were eligible. Demographics and pregnancy data, details of antiretroviral therapy, and clinical outcome were collected from 11 European countries.The risk of AIDS or death, by whether or not an infant started treatment before 3 months of age, was estimated by Kaplan–Meier survival analysis and Cox proportional hazards models.Among 210 children, 21 developed AIDS and three died. Baseline characteristics of the 124 infants treated before 3 months were similar to those of the 86 infants treated later. The risk of developing AIDS/death at 1 year was 1.6 and 11.7% in the two groups, respectively (P < 0.001). Deferring treatment was associated with increased risk of progression [crude hazard ratio 5.0; 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.0–12.6; P = 0.001] that persisted after adjusting for cohort in multivariate models (adjusted hazard ratio 3.0; 95% CI 1.2–7.9; P = 0.021).In HIV-1 vertically infected infants, starting antiretroviral therapy before the age of 3 months is associated with a significant reduction in progression to AIDS and death.