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November 1996

CDC Report Shows Sharp Drop in AIDS in Infants

The number of reported cases of perinatally acquired (mother-to-infant) AIDS declined by 27 percent between 1992 and 1995, according to information released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Increased use of perinatal zidovudine (AZT) therapy by HIV-infected pregnant women and their newborns is the most likely factor leading to this reduction, CDC said.

"This is a dramatic example of the power we have to conduct world-class scientific research and then to quickly and effectively put new research findings to work saving lives," said HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) sponsored an AIDS clinical trial, ACTG-076, that was concluded in early 1994 after it proved successfully ahead of schedule, that the risk of perinatal transmission of HIV could be reduced by as much as two-thirds with the use of AZT therapy by HIV-positive pregnant women during pregnancy and childbirth and by newborns for six weeks after birth. Following release of those results, a consortium of Public Health Service agencies including CDC, NIH, and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) immediately began to coordinate efforts designed to capitalize on this research. Guidelines were drafted and issued by the Public Health Service to promote routine and universal HIV counseling and voluntary testing for all pregnant women. CDC and the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR) also developed and released educational materials for health care professionals and women of childbearing age.

Today's report by CDC in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report clearly demonstrates that these efforts are paying off, health experts say. "This information confirms that our approach to perinatal HIV prevention is working," said CDC Director David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D. "As a direct result of these efforts, babies' lives are being saved."

The report shows that the incidence of perinatally acquired AIDS peaked in 1992, followed by a short period of stabilization. Cases began to decline in 1992 and 1993 and dropped dramatically in 1994. Researchers believe the small initial reduction indicates possible effects of other preventive and medical factors including an increase in the number of childbearing women receiving AZT therapy for their own health and an increased use of preventive therapy for AIDS-related opportunistic infections among HIV-infected children.

More dramatic declines in reported AIDS cases in children followed release of the PHS guidelines with a decline of 8 percent from 1993 to 1994 and a drop of 17 percent from 1994 to 1995, making it clear that routine and universal HIV counseling and voluntary testing, combined with AZT therapy is highly effective in preventing HIV.

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