HIV-infected parents report limiting physical contact with their children

02/03/05

CHICAGO Over one-fourth of HIV-infected parents reported avoiding certain physical interactions, like hugging or kissing, with their children due to a fear of transmitting the disease or of contracting an infection from them, according to an article in the February issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Of adults receiving care for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the U.S., 28 percent have children younger than 18 years old, according to background information in the article. These children, although not infected themselves, may be greatly affected by the disease. Because HIV patients can both transmit the virus and may be vulnerable to opportunistic infections (occurring in people with weakened immune systems), a fear of infection may affect parent-child interactions.

Mark A. Schuster, M.D., Ph.D., from RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, Calif., and colleagues conducted interviews with 344 parents receiving health care for HIV in the U.S. Participants were asked how much they feared getting an infection from their children and how much they feared transmitting HIV to their child. They were then asked how much these fears led them to avoid interactions with their children including cuddling or hugging, kissing on the cheek, kissing on the lips, and sharing utensils.

The researchers found that 36.1 percent of HIV-infected patients felt at least "a little" fear and 19 percent felt moderate fear of transmitting HIV to their children. Fourteen percent of parents reported at least a moderate fear and 41.7 percent reported at least "a little" fear of catching infections from their children. Of participants, 27.9 percent avoided one of four types of interaction with their children "a lot," specifically, kissing on the lips (22.2 percent), sharing utensil (17.7 percent), hugging (1.8 percent), and kissing on the cheek (1.3 percent). Nearly 40 percent of parents reported avoiding these interactions at least "a little."

"The finding that more than one third of parents fear transmitting HIV to their children suggests that more work needs to be done to reassure parents about the limited transmissibility of HIV," the authors write. "Although it is encouraging that parents rarely withheld interactions that did not involve the potential exchange of saliva, it is concerning that more than one quarter of parents restricted interactions 'a lot' because of fears of contagion."

(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005; 159: 173 179. Available post-embargo at www.archpediatrics.com)

Editor's Note: This work was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, Rockville, Md., and a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta. Original data collection was supported in part by cooperative agreement from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville.

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