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Drug preventing HIV transmission may affect fetal development

The antiretroviral drug atazanavir may have small but significant effects on fetal development when used by pregnant women.

By
Stephen Feller
Atazanavir, a type of drug called a protease inhibitor, is one of several drugs used to prevent the transmission of HIV from a mother to her baby. New research conducted at Harvard University shows the drug may cause slight developmental delays among the babies of women treated with the drug during pregnancy. Photo by Paul Hakimata Photography/Shutterstock
Atazanavir, a type of drug called a protease inhibitor, is one of several drugs used to prevent the transmission of HIV from a mother to her baby. New research conducted at Harvard University shows the drug may cause slight developmental delays among the babies of women treated with the drug during pregnancy. Photo by Paul Hakimata Photography/Shutterstock

BOSTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- A drug used to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child may have small but significant effects on infant development, researchers found in a new study.

Researchers at Harvard University found in a study of HIV-positive pregnant women that one of several drugs given to them could affect the development of their children, regardless of whether they are born with the disease.

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The drug, atazanavir, is used with one or more other drugs as part of anti-retroviral regimens used not only to treat HIV patients, but also to reduce transmission of the disease.

A previous study at Harvard showed the drug may have some developmental effects, but researchers at the time said the risk was low and did not advise changes to people's treatment plans.

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For the new study, published in the journal AIDS, researchers recruited 167 women who received atazanavir during their pregnancy and 750 who did not, comparing the effects of the drug based on developmental baselines when their children turned 1 year old.

For children whose mothers were given the drug as part of anti-retroviral treatment at all, language and social-emotional development scores were lower among children exposed to the drug while in utero than those who were not. Language development scores were found to be lower regardless of the trimester of exposure, though social-emotional scores were only affected in children whose mothers started the drug in the second or third trimester.

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For cognitive, motor and adaptive behavioral development, children whose mothers received the drug all lagged behind children who were not exposed to it.

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Researchers point out in the study the small statistical differences do not have large clinical implications, but are worth paying attention to because they "add another risk to the constellation of existing biological and socio-environmental risk factors to which these children are often exposed."

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