Skip Navigation LinksSkip Navigation Links
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Safer Healthier People
Blue White
Blue White
bottom curve
CDC Home Search Health Topics A-Z spacer spacer
Blue curve MMWR spacer

Current Trends Recommendations for Assisting in the Prevention of Perinatal Transmission of Human T-Lymphotropic Virus Type III/Lymphadenopathy-Associated Virus and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome

Please note: This guideline document is obsolete and may not reflect current evidence or best practice and likely contains out-of-date information. For latest updates on this topic, please click here.

The information and recommendations in this document are intended to assist health-care providers and state and local health departments in developing procedures to prevent perinatal transmission of human T-lympho- tropic virus type III/lymphadenopathy-associated virus (HTLV-III/LAV), the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

This document contains recommendations for providing counselling and, when indicated, testing for antibody to HTLV-III/LAV for women who are at increased risk of acquiring the virus and who are either pregnant or may become pregnant. It is important that these women know they are at risk, as well as know and understand their HTLV-III/LAV-antibody status, so they can make informed decisions to help prevent perinatally acquired HTLV-III/LAV.

Through counselling, uninfected women can learn how to avoid becoming infected, and infected women can choose to delay pregnancy until more is known about perinatal transmission of the virus. If already pregnant, infected women can be provided information for managing the pregnancy and caring for the child.

Currently available data indicate that most pediatric HTLV-III/LAV infections and AIDS are acquired perinatally from infected women, but additional studies are needed to better quantify the risk of transmission from an infected pregnant woman to the fetus or newborn.

The recommendations below pertain to women. However, men who are HTLV- III/LAV-antibody positive should also be counselled regarding the risks of sexual and perinatal transmission, so they can refer for counselling and testing their sex partners who may be pregnant or considering pregnancy.


Pediatric AIDS Cases due to Perinatal Transmission. As of December 1, 1985, 217 (1%) of the 15,172 AIDS cases reported to CDC occurred among children under 13 years of age. Sixty percent of these children are known to have died. These 217 cases represent only the more severe manifestations of HTLV-III/LAV infection. Less severe manifestations, often described as AIDS- related complex (ARC), are not reported to CDC, so the number of children with clinically significant illness attributable to HTLV-III/LAV infection is greater than the reported cases of pediatric AIDS. In addition, a number of infected children are probably asymptomatic.

Of the 217 reported pediatric AIDS patients, 165 (76%) have as their only known risk factor a mother belonging to a group with increased prevalence of HTLV-III/LAV infection. An additional 18% of the pediatric cases are attributable to transfusions of blood or blood products, while risk factor information is missing or incomplete on the remaining 6%. Of the 217 children with AIDS, 48% had mothers who were intravenous (IV) drug abusers; 17% had mothers who were born in Haiti; and 10% had mothers who were sex partners of either IV drug abusers or bisexual men.

Of the patients with perinatally acquired AIDS, 45% resided in New York City, while Florida and New Jersey accounted for an additional 32%.

Mechanisms of Perinatal Transmission. It is believed that HTLV-III/LAV is transmitted from infected women to their fetuses or offspring during pregnancy, during labor and delivery, or perhaps shortly after birth. Trans- mission of the virus during pregnancy or labor and delivery is demonstrated by two reported AIDS cases occurring in children who had no contact with their infected mothers after birth. One was delivered by Cesarean section (1,2).

Transmission of the virus after birth has been implicated in one case of HTLV-III/LAV infection in a child born to a mother reported to have acquired the infection from a postpartum blood transfusion. Since she breastfed the child for 6 weeks, the authors suggested breastfeeding as the possible mode of transmission (3). Recently, HTLV-III/LAV has been isolated from the breast milk of infected women (4).

Risk of Perinatal Transmission from Infected Mothers. The rate of perinatal transmission of HTLV-III/LAV from infected pregnant women is unknown; however, available data suggest a high rate. In one study of 20 infants born to infected mothers who had already delivered one infant with AIDS, 13 (65%) had serologic and/or clinical evidence of infection with HTLV- III/LAV several months after birth (5,6). Since these women were selected on the basis of having previously transmitted HTLV-III/LAV perinatally, this study may overestimate the average risk of transmission for all infected pregnant women.

Perinatal transmission from an infected mother to her newborn is not inevitable. Of three children born to women who became infected with HTLV- III/LAV by artificial insemination from an infected donor, all were in good health and negative for antibody to the virus more than 1 year after birth (7). Another child, born to a woman who was already pregnant at the time of AIDS diagnosis and was demonstrated to be viremic, was seronegative, culture negative, and healthy at birth and at 4 months of age (8). In a retrospective study evaluating nine children under 5 years of age whose mothers were later diagnosed with AIDS, two (22%) had antibody to HTLV-III/LAV (9). The infection status of these women during pregnancy was unknown.

In these studies, the rate of transmission ranged from 0% (0/3) to 65% (13/20). Additional studies are needed to better define the rate of trans- mission and variables associated with it.

Risk of Illness among Infected Pregnant Women. Pregnancy is associated with suppression of cell-mediated immunity and increased susceptibility to some infections (10). The T-helper to T-suppressor ratio is decreased during normal pregnancy, being lowest in the third trimester, and returns to normal approximately 3 months postpartum (10). It is not known whether pregnancy increases an infected woman's risk of developing AIDS or ARC, but one study suggests it does (6). Fifteen infected women who were well at time of delivery were followed an average of 30 months after the births of their children. Five (33%) subsequently developed AIDS; seven (47%) developed AIDS- related conditions; and only three (20%) remained asymptomatic. These results may not apply to all infected pregnant women, but they do suggest an increased likelihood of developing disease when an HTLV-III/LAV infection occurs in association with pregnancy.

Prevalence of HTLV-III/LAV Infection. Counselling and testing for antibody to HTLV-III/LAV, when indicated, to reduce perinatal transmission of AIDS will be most beneficial in populations of women with increased prevalence of the virus (Table 1). These include: women who have used drugs intravenously for nonmedical purposes; women who were born in countries where heterosexual transmission is thought to play a major role (11,12); women who have engaged in prostitution; and women who are or have been sex partners of men who abuse IV drugs, are bisexual, have hemophilia, were born in countries where heterosexual transmission is thought to play a major role (11,12), or have evidence of HTLV-III/LAV infection.

The prevalence of antibody to HTLV-III/LAV in U.S. populations of men and women ranges from less than 0.01% in female blood donors to as high as 74% in men with hemophilia (13-15). Among heterosexual IV drug abusers, the prevalence of HTLV-III/LAV infection ranges from 2% to 59% in various geographic areas (16,17). Seroprevalence among the heterosexual partners of persons at increased risk for AIDS varies from 10% in female partners of asymptomatic, seropositive hemophilia patients to 71% in the female partners of men with AIDS or ARC (18-20). Among prostitutes, the HTLV-III/LAV antibody prevalence varies from 5% to 40%, depending on geographic area, with most of the women with positive tests relating histories of IV drug abuse (21). Among female blood donors in Atlanta, Georgia, who denied belonging to high-risk groups, 0.01% had repeatedly reactive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) followed by reactive Western blot tests (15).

Commercially available tests to detect antibody to HTLV-III/LAV are ELISAs using antigens derived from whole disrupted HTLV-III/LAV. When the ELISA is reactive on initial testing, it is standard procedure to repeat the test on the same specimen. Repeatedly reactive tests are highly sensitive and specific for antibody to HTLV-III/LAV. However, when the ELISA is used to screen populations in which the prevalence of infection is very low (such as blood donors or women not in high-risk groups), the proportion of repeatedly reactive results that are falsely positive will be higher. For that reason, an additional test, such as a Western blot, is recommended following repeatedly reactive ELISA results, especially in low-prevalence populations. In populations with high prevalence of infection (e.g. homosexual men or IV drug abusers), most repeatedly reactive ELISAs are reactive by Western blot or another test. For example, among 109 IV drug abusers whose sera were repeatedly reactive by ELISA, over 85% were reactive by Western blot (22). In contrast, in a low-prevalence population of 69 female blood donors whose sera were repeatedly reactive by ELISA, only 5% were reactive by Western blot (15).

Due to the seriousness of the implications of HTLV-III/LAV-antibody reactivity, it is recommended that repeatedly reactive ELISAs be followed by an additional test, such as the Western blot. Women with sera repeatedly reactive by ELISA and reactive by western blot should have a thorough medical evaluation. HTLV-III/LAV has been isolated from a single specimen in 67%-95% of persons with specific antibody (23,24). Because infection has been demon- strated in asymptomatic persons, the presence of specific antibody should be considered presumptive evidence of current infection and infectiousness.


Women Who Should be Offered Counselling and Testing. Counselling services and testing for antibody to HTLV-III/LAV should be offered to pregnant women and women who may become pregnant in the following groups: (1) those who have evidence of HTLV-III/LAV infection; (2) those who have used drugs intra- venously for nonmedical purposes; (3) those who were born in countries where heterosexual transmission is thought to play a major role (11,12); (4) those who have engaged in prostitution; (5) those who are or have been sex partners of: IV drug abusers, bisexual men, men with hemophilia, men who were born in countries where heterosexual transmission is thought to play a major role (11,12), or men who otherwise have evidence of HTLV-III/LAV infection. If data become available to show that HTLV-III/LAV-antibody prevalence is increased in other groups or settings, counselling and testing programs should be extended to include them. Routine counselling and testing of women who are not included in the above-mentioned groups is not recommended due to low prevalence of infection and concern about interpretation of test results in a low-prevalence population. However if a women requests it, the service should be provided in accordance with these recommendations.

Settings for Offering Counselling and Testing. Counselling and testing for antibody to HTLV-III/LAV to prevent perinatal transmission is recommended in the setting of any medical service in which women at increased risk are commonly encountered. These include services for treating IV drug abuse (i.e., detoxification and methadone maintenance), comprehensive hemophilia treatment centers, sexually transmitted disease clinics, and clinics that serve female prostitutes. In addition, services related to reproduction, such as family planning and infertility services, gynecologic, premarital, or preconceptual examinations, and prenatal and obstetric services should also consider offering counselling and testing if high-risk women are seen at these facilities. Testing for antibody to HTLV-III/LAV should be performed with the woman's consent after counselling is provided regarding risk factors for infection, the interpretation of test results, the risks of transmission, and the possible increased likelihood of disease among women infected with HTLV-III/LAV in association with pregnancy. The counselling and testing must be conducted in an environment in which confidentiality can be assured. In settings where confidential counselling and testing cannot be assured, infor- mation should be provided and referrals made to appropriate facilities.

Frequency of Testing. Detectable antibodies to HTLV-III/LAV may not develop until 2-4 months after exposure. This, and whether the woman is continuously exposed, should be taken into account when considering the need for, and frequency of, repeat testing. High-risk women should be offered counselling and testing before they become pregnant. During pregnancy, counselling and testing should be offered as soon as the woman is known to be pregnant. If the initial test is negative, repeat testing may be indicated near delivery to aid in the clinical management of the pregnant woman and newborn. If this final test is negative and the mother's risk of exposure no longer exists, she may safely consider breastfeeding the child, and manage- ment of the child need not include the same concerns that would be appro- priate if the woman had had a positive test or if she were at high risk and had not been tested at all.

Counselling Women with Positive Results. Women with virologic or sero- logic evidence of HTLV-III/LAV infection should be counselled regarding their own risk of AIDS and the risk of perinatal and sexual transmission of HTLV- III/LAV. Infected women should be counselled to refer their sex partners for counselling and testing. If the partners of these women are not infected, both members of the couple should be counselled on how they may modify their sexual practices to reduce the risk of HTLV-III/LAV transmission to the unin- fected partner. In addition, the couple should be told not to donate blood, organs, or sperm and should be discouraged from using IV drugs and advised against sharing needles and syringes. When seeking medical or dental care for intercurrent illness, they should inform those responsible for their care of their positive antibody status so appropriate evaluation can be undertaken. Recommendations for providing information and advice to individuals infected with HTLV-III/LAV have been published (25).

Infected women should be advised to consider delaying pregnancy until more is known about perinatal transmission of the virus. Pregnant infected women may require additional medical and social support services due to an enhanced risk of opportunistic infections and psychosocial difficulties during and after pregnancy. Obstetric-care providers should be alert to signs and symptoms of HTLV-III/LAV and related opportunistic infections in these pregnant women and to the need for specialized medical care.

HTLV-III/LAV-infected women should be advised against breastfeeding to avoid postnatal transmission to a child who may not yet be infected. The child should receive follow-up pediatric evaluations to determine whether he/she has HTLV-III/LAV infection, and to diagnose and treat promptly any diseases that may be secondary to HTLV-III/LAV infection. Recommendations for educating and providing foster care for infected children have been published (26).

Counselling Women with Negative Test Results. A negative ELISA for HTLV- III/LAV antibody in women who have no clinical or laboratory evidence of HTLV-III/LAV infection is evidence that they have probably not been infected. However, uninfected women who have sex partners with evidence of HTLV-III/LAV infection or with an increased risk of becoming infected should be informed that sexual intercourse increases their risk of infection. These women should be informed of the risks associated with pregnancy if they become infected and advised to consider delaying pregnancy until more is known about peri- natal transmission of the virus or until they are no longer considered to be at risk for acquiring the virus. In addition to preventing pregnancy, the consistent and proper use of condoms can offer some protection against HTLV- III/LAV infection.

High-risk women, even if seronegative, should be told not to donate blood or organs. To decrease their risk of becoming infected, IV drug abusers should be encouraged to seek treatment for their drug abuse. Persons coun- selling IV drug abusers should know that IV drug abuse is often strongly ingrained and compulsive. Despite educational efforts and encouragement for treatment, some addicts will continue to abuse drugs or relapse after treatment. If drug abuse continues, they should be advised not to share needles or syringes and to use only sterile equipment.

Additional Considerations. These recommendations will be revised as additional information becomes available. It is recognized that provision of the recommended professional counselling, HTLV-III/LAV-antibody testing and associated specialized medical services will take time to implement and may stress available resources, particularly in public facilities, which are most greatly affected. Health-care providers, social-service personnel, and others involved in educating and caring for HTLV-III/LAV-infected persons should be aware of the potential for social isolation and should be sensitive to the need for confidentiality. They should be familiar with federal and state laws, regulations, and policies that protect the confidentiality of clinical data and test results. Each institution should assure that specific mechanisms are in place to protect the confidentiality of all records and to prevent the misuse of information. Anonymous testing would not be appropriate if it prevents adequate counselling and medical follow-up evaluation.

Hospital precautions for managing infected women and infants should be patterned after those for caring for patients with HTLV-III/LAV infection (27,28). Additional recommendations will follow.


The information and recommendations contained in this document were developed and compiled by CDC and the U.S. Public Health Service in consul- tation with individuals representing: the Conference of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the American Public Health Association, the United States Conference of Local Health Officers, the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Venereal Disease Association, the Division of Maternal and Child Health of the Health Resources and Services Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, the National Hemophilia Foundation, the Haitian Medical Association, the American Bar Foundation, and the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. The consultants also included representatives of the departments of health of the areas with the largest number of perinatally transmitted pediatric AIDS cases: New York City, Florida, and New Jersey. These recommendations may not reflect the views of all individual consultants or the organizations they represented.


  1. Lapointe N, Michaud J, Pekovic D, Chausseau JP, Dupuy JM. Transplacental transmission of HTLV-III virus. {Letter} N Engl J Med 1985;312:1325-6.

  2. Cowan MJ, Hellmann D, Chudwin D, Wara DW, Chang RS, Ammann AJ. Maternal transmission of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Pediatrics 1984;73: 382-6.

  3. Ziegler JB, Cooper DA, Johnson RO, Gold J. Postnatal transmission of AIDS-associated retrovirus from mother to infant. Lancet 1985;i:896-7.

  4. Thiry L, Sprecher-Goldberger S, Jonckheer T, et al. Isolation of AIDS virus from cell-free breast milk of three healthy virus carriers. {Letter} Lancet 1985;ii:891-2.

  5. Scott GB, Fischl MA, Klimas N, et al. Mothers of infants with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome: outcome of subsequent pregnancies. Atlanta, Georgia: International conference on acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, April 14-17, 1985.

  6. Scott GB, Fischl MA, Klimas N, et al. Mothers of infants with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome: evidence for both symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers. JAMA 1985;253:363-6.

  7. Stewart GJ, Tyler JPP, Cunningham AL, et al. Transmission of human T- lymphotropic virus type III (HTLV-III) virus by artificial insemination by donor. Lancet 1985;ii:581-4.

  8. CDC. Unpublished data.

  9. Thomas PA, Lubin K, Enlow RW, Getchell J. Comparison of HTLV-III serology, T-cell levels, and general health status of children whose mothers have AIDS with children of healthy inner city mothers in New York. Atlanta, Georgia: International conference on acquired immuno- deficiency syndrome, April 14-17, 1985.

  10. Weinberg ED. Pregnancy-associated depression of cell-mediated immunity. Rev Inf Dis 1984;6:814-31.

  11. WHO. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Report on the situation in Europe as of 31 December 1984. Weekly Epidemiological Record 1985;60: 85-92.

  12. Castro KG, Fischl MA, Landesman SH, et al. Risk factors for AIDS among Haitians in the United States. Atlanta, Georgia: International conference on acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, April 14-17, 1985.

  13. Jason J, McDougal JS, Holman RC, et al. Human T-lymphotropic retrovirus type III/lymphadenopathy-associated virus antibody: association with hemophiliacs' immune status and blood component usage. JAMA 1985;253: 3409-15.

  14. Gjerset GF, McGrady G, Counts RB, et al. Lymphadenopathy-associated virus antibodies and T cells in hemophiliacs treated with cryoprecipitate or concentrate. Blood 1985;66:718-20.

  15. CDC. Unpublished data.

  16. Spira TJ, Des Jarlais DC, Bokos D, et al. HTLV-III/LAV antibodies in intravenous drug abusers: comparison of low and high risk areas for AIDS. Atlanta, Georgia: International conference on acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, April 14-17, 1985.

  17. Weiss SH, Ginzburg HM, Goedert JJ, et al. Risk for HTLV-III exposure and AIDS among parenteral drug abusers in New Jersey. Atlanta, Georgia: International conference on acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, April 14-17, 1985.

  18. Kreiss JK, Kitchen LW, Prince HE, Kasper CK, Essex M. Antibody to human T-lymphotropic virus type III in wives of hemophiliacs: evidence for heterosexual transmission. Ann Intern Med 1985;102:623-6.

  19. Redfield RR, Markham PD, Salahuddin SZ, et al. Frequent transmission of HTLV-III among spouses of patients with AIDS-related complex and AIDS. JAMA 1985;253:1571-3.

  20. Harris CA, Cabradilla CD, Robert-Guroff M, et al. HTLV-III/LAV infection and AIDS in heterosexual partners of AIDS patients. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Twenty-fifth interscience conference on antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy, September 29-October 2, 1985.

  21. CDC. Heterosexual transmission of human T-lymphotropic virus type III/ lymphadenopathy-associated virus. MMWR 1985;34:561-3.

  22. CDC. Unpublished data.

  23. Feorino PM, Jaffe HW, Palmer E, et al. Transfusion-associated acquired immunodeficiency syndrome: evidence for persistent infection in blood donors. N Engl J Med 1985;312:1293-6.

  24. Jaffe HW, Feorino PM, Darrow WW, et al. Persistent infection with human T-lymphotropic virus type III/lymphadenopathy-associated virus in apparently healthy homosexual men. Ann Intern Med 1985;102:627-30.

  25. CDC. Provisional Public Health Service inter-agency recommendations for screening donated blood and plasma for antibody to the virus causing acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. MMWR 1985;34:1-5.

  26. CDC. Education and foster care of children infected with human T-lympho- tropic virus type III/lymphadenopathy-associated virus. MMWR 1985;34: 517-21.

  27. CDC. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS): precautions for clinical and laboratory staffs. MMWR 1982;31:577-80.

  28. CDC. Recommendations for preventing transmission of infection with human T-lymphotropic virus type III/lymphadenopathy-associated virus in the workplace. MMWR 1985;34:681-6, 691-5.

Disclaimer   All MMWR HTML documents published before January 1993 are electronic conversions from ASCII text into HTML. This conversion may have resulted in character translation or format errors in the HTML version. Users should not rely on this HTML document, but are referred to the original MMWR paper copy for the official text, figures, and tables. An original paper copy of this issue can be obtained from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington, DC 20402-9371; telephone: (202) 512-1800. Contact GPO for current prices.

**Questions or messages regarding errors in formatting should be addressed to

Page converted: 08/05/98


Safer, Healthier People

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd, MailStop E-90, Atlanta, GA 30333, U.S.A


Department of Health
and Human Services

This page last reviewed 5/2/01