Do anti-HIV meds taken in pregnancy damage babies' brain development and cause speech delays?

Do anti-HIV meds taken in pregnancy damage babies' brain development and cause speech delays?

Physicians concerned that anti-HIV medications prescribed for HIV-positive pregnant women damaged their developing infants’ brains and caused language delays can take comfort in the results of a study by Mabel Rice along with scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and several other universities.

The findings of the study, which evaluated the language skills of nearly 800 children, showed that children born to mothers treated with anti-HIV medications while pregnant were no more likely to show language delays by age two than children of HIV-positive mothers who were not treated during pregnancy.

The children of mothers who took anti-HIV meds during pregnancy have shown higher rates of language delays than typical children and the anti-HIV medications had been suspected to be at the root of such delays.

For a woman who is HIV-positive and pregnant, recommended combination therapies treat the infection and greatly reduce the chance that the virus will spread to the fetus, Rice said. “Previous studies suggested that the drugs used to treat pregnant women might contribute to language delays in infants and toddlers, even those who remained HIV-negative.”

The researchers did conclude that one drug sometimes used in the combination treatments should be monitored. Children whose mothers received combination therapy containing the drug atazanavir were more likely to have language delays at one year of age than were the other children in the study. But these children appeared to catch up to their peers by age two.

“We continue to investigate the sources of risk for language delays in children exposed to HIV in the womb. In clinical practice it is prudent to monitor these children for signs of language delay, ”said Rice.

Rice, an international authority on language disorders in children and the genetics of language acquisition, was the lead investigator in a previous study that found that children exposed to HIV at birth are at risk for language impairments.

The study is part of a national collaboration called the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study.