Many pregnant women in developing countries don't find out they're infected with HIV, the AIDS virus, until they show up at a clinic to give birth. Despite the risk of exposure during birth, many babies born to such women are nevertheless free of the virus.
A study in Kenya in 2000 showed that 16 percent of such babies still end up acquiring HIV through their mothers' breast milk. Now, a study from Malawi suggests that this transmission rate can be reduced significantly by giving at-risk infants oral doses of two anti-HIV drugs shortly after birth.
Scientists randomly assigned babies of HIV-positive women to get nevirapine or nevirapine plus zidovudine (AZT). Of 444 HIV-negative newborns exposed to the virus through breastfeeding, 8 percent were found to be infected at 8 weeks of age if they had gotten both drugs. Of 421 HIV-negative babies getting only nevirapine, 12 percent were infected at that age, the researchers report in the Oct. 11 Lancet.