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HIV/AIDS and Children

Information for the Parents of an HIV Positive Child

By

Updated January 07, 2009

Though more adults suffer from HIV than children, there are families that must deal with the unique stresses, concerns, and questions of caring for an HIV positive child. Naturally, you as parents worry about the health and well-being of your child. And make no mistake -- as your child gets older, he or she will have concerns, too.

Arming yourself with information can help you better understand your child's illness and answer questions when they arise.

Is My Child a Risk to Others?

Ryan White was a thirteen-year-old in 1984 when he was diagnosed with HIV. At that time, the disease was not well understood, and so Ryan faced prejudice and discrimination from his community in Kokomo, Indiana. Parents and officials feared that Ryan would spread his HIV to classmates through nothing more than casual contact.

While some may still harbor this sentiment, despite more widespread knowledge about HIV today, you needn't fear. An HIV child is of no risk to a friend or classmate he casually interacts with. HIV is not spread to others by casual contact including playing together, sharing toys, drinking from the same cup, or eating from the same plate. Simply put, your child is not a risk to other children; he or she will not transfer their infection simply by being around other children.

Are There Any Precautions I Need to Take As a Parent?

With all the above being said, there are indeed a couple of precautions that you need to take. Kids will be kids, and eventually they will skin a knee or cut themselves. Any bleeding cut, laceration, or abrasion could potentially expose other people to HIV infected blood. Simply use gloves when handling you child's wound and when cleaning up any blood. All cuts or lacerations should be covered to avoid exposing anyone to HIV infected blood and to keep out any bacteria that could cause the wound to become infected. If any redness, swelling, or drainage from the wound occurs, these may signal that the wound has become infected. Infected wounds need to be assessed by your child's HIV specialist.

It is wise to share proper wound caring steps with your child, as well.

Be Aware of Peer Pressure

We all know how mean, cruel, and brutally honest kids can sometimes be. Teasing, name calling, and making fun of other kids just because they are different can unfortunately become commonplace.

You should keep this in mind when discussing your child's illness or when helping your child take his or her daily medications. Having your son or daughter take necessary medications around friends and other children could cause embarrassment and emotional stress. Instead, arrange your child's medication schedule so that medications can be taking in a private, routine location without distractions. This will improve adherence and help your child feel less stress.

Should My HIV Positive Child Get Immunized?

Most of you are aware of the vaccinations that are recommended for your children. Some of these vaccinations are required by school systems before allowing a child to start kindergarten. Experts agree that vaccinations are an easy way to keep your children healthy. But what about children with an immune system weakened by HIV? Should your HIV positive son or daughter get vaccinated as well? The answer to that question depends on the vaccination (and in the case of some vaccines, your child's CD4 count).

Recommended Vaccines

  • Diphtheria
  • Tetanus
  • Pertussis
  • Polio (only inactivated polio)
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (HIB)
  • Pneumococcus
  • Meningococcus
  • Mumps
  • Rubella

Vaccines to Avoid

  • BCG (TB Vaccine)- Can cause TB infections in people with immune systems weakened by HIV
  • Polio - The live virus polio vaccine should not be given to HIV infected kids because it can cause disease. Inactivated polio vaccine is recommended for children with HIV.
  • Chickenpox - Because the chickenpox vaccine is a live vaccine, it can cause a disseminated (throughout the body) chickenpox infection in those kids with weakened immune systems. Avoiding all live vaccines is usually what is recommended, although some will give HIV positive children the chickenpox vaccine if their immune system is strong and healthy. Ask your HIV specialist what he or she would recommend before agreeing to have your child vaccinated for chickenpox.

The Measles Vaccine
There is some debate surrounding the measles vaccine and whether or not it should be given to HIV positive kids. Though it is recommended for children in general, there is a case of an HIV positive person dying from measles after receiving the vaccine. Other Recommended Vaccines

  • Pneumovax - offers protection against pneumococcal pneumonia
  • Flu vaccine - HIV positive children should get the flu vaccine once each year. The vaccine offers protection against the strains of influenza thought to be the most prevalent types for that given flu season.
  • Hepatitis a and b - These vaccines protect from two common types of viral hepatitis: hepatitis a and b

Important Advice

Immunization requirements can change from year to year and from one country to another. In some cases, the timing of the vaccination may be dependent on a person's CD4 count.

Check with your pediatric HIV specialist to see what immunizations your son or daughter should receive and what vaccinations they have already had. Many vaccines are given as a series of several injections. Many require a booster later in life, so don't assume that your child will never need a vaccination again if he's already had one.

There are some people who question the effectiveness and safety of immunizations, especially those for children. There are many sources of research that show that vaccines are both effective and safe in most people. If you have questions about whether a vaccine is necessary or safe for your child, talk to your HIV specialist.

Raising a child is a lifelong undertaking that can be difficult at times. But there is nothing, in my opinion, that is as rewarding. HIV doesn't have to change that fact.

Learn all you can learn about the disease. See an HIV specialist on a regular basis, talk with and listen to your child, and most importantly, enjoy being a parent.

Source:

New York University Medical Center; "Children and HIV"; HIV infosource.org; 22 Oct 2007.

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