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HIV testing for children

HIV can be passed from mother-to-child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

Testing children of HIV-positive mothers for HIV is the only way to know if the child has HIV.

If the test is positive, the child can take HIV treatment and stay healthy and well.

I have HIV. Why is it important to test my baby for HIV?

Testing your baby for HIV will confirm if your baby has HIV or not. This is the only way to know if HIV passed into their body during your pregnancy. If they test positive, they can start treatment straight away and stay healthy.

I took HIV treatment during pregnancy. Does my baby need to be tested for HIV?

Yes. Taking HIV treatment during pregnancy does reduce the chance of your baby having HIV to almost zero. But it’s important to test your baby to make sure. Even if your baby seems fine, the only way to know if they have HIV is to test them.

When should my baby be tested for HIV?

Your baby should be tested for HIV as early as possible for the best treatment outcomes. This is recommended:

  • at birth or within two days after birth
  • at 4–6 weeks old (or earlier in some countries)

If the baby is breastfed, they should be tested again:

  • at 9 months old
  • at 18 months old or 3 months after breastfeeding finishes, whichever is later.

If your baby tests positive, they should start treatment as soon as possible. If your baby tests negative in all these tests, then they do not have HIV.

What’s involved in testing a baby for HIV?

HIV tests for babies are different from HIV tests for older children or adults.

  • Your baby will have a HIV nucleic acid test (NAT).
  • Older children and adults have rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) and/or enzyme immunoassays (EIAs).

The tests are different because babies of mothers with HIV will always test positive for HIV antibodies (cells that the immune system develops to respond to an HIV infection). This doesn’t mean they have HIV. It just means they have the same HIV antibodies as you. These will disappear after several months.

My child wasn’t tested for HIV as a baby. Can they be tested now?

Yes absolutely. Your child can be tested for HIV at any time, and this is the best thing to do to keep them healthy.

What if my baby/child tests positive for HIV?

It’s normal to feel scared or worried if your child has HIV. But HIV can be managed really well with treatment. It’s important that you now speak with your healthcare provider about starting your child on treatment.

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What are the consent rules for testing babies and children for HIV?

As with other medical procedures, a parent, guardian or caregiver needs to give consent for testing their baby or child for HIV. Children do not have the capacity to give consent themselves.

As your child grows up there will be an age at which they can consent for HIV testing themselves. This age varies across countries. Look online or ask your healthcare provider to see how old your child has to be to consent to HIV testing themselves.

How to talk to someone who is scared to test their baby or child for HIV

Lots of parents are scared to test their baby or child for HIV. They might argue that the child is well and doesn’t need to be tested. They might be scared to tell their child of their own positive status. They might fear their child experiencing stigma. Or they may be worried they can’t look after the child.

The encouragement you can provide to a parent is much the same as the encouragement you might give to an adult who is scared to test themselves. Ultimately it is better to know if the child has HIV or not, so that they can start treatment to live a healthy life if they test positive.

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