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June/July 2006

Testing 1-2-3

From driving exams, to hearing screenings and even college entry SATs, life is filled with tests. June 27th marked the 11th annual National HIV Testing Day – drawing attention to one of life’s more important tests. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 180,000-280,000 Americans are HIV positive and yet unaware of their status. Not knowing can mean the difference between life and death.  

Each year, nearly two million U.S. women infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) become pregnant, creating circumstances that can dramatically affect not only their lives, but those of their unborn children.

Many STDs can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy (through the placenta), and/or during the birthing process (birth canal). Some of the most common include syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepititis B and herpes. HIV can be passed from mother to child through the placenta, birth canal and also during breastfeeding.

The effects of STDs on pregnancy are wide-ranging, resulting in stillbirths, preterm deliveries and low birthweight births. Several types of birth defects including brain damage, blindess, deafness and liver disease can also be attributed to STDs.

Even if not planning on having a baby, women of childbearing age should be screened for HIV and other STDs, given that half of all pregnancies are unplanned. Those who are pregnant, should be tested at their first prenatal visit, even if they have been screened in the past.  Women must proactively ask their doctor for the test, in the event he or she does not perform it routinely. Should a bacterial infection be discovered (eg: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis) it can be treated with antibotics. This will protect both mother and child.

Viral-based diseases, including HIV and herpes cannot be cured, though certain medications can be administered to help reduce symptoms and to protect the baby during pregnancy and the birthing process.  In fact, the proper administration of antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy can reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission to just one to two percent. In many cases, cesarean deliveries are also performed to further protect babies during delivery.  Without any intervention, the likelihood of transmitting HIV during pregnancy and delivery is about 25 percent in the United States, according to the CDC.

Submitting to an HIV or other STD screening test is very a personal decision.  However, when you’re pregnant, or thinking about having a baby, this decision will directly affect others.

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Last updated: July2006


At a glance

  • Women (18-44) tested for HIV
  • Pregnant women tested for HIV
  • Of pregnant women not screened, those NOT offered a test

N.C. State Center for Health Statistics

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