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Infectious Diseases in Obstetrics and Gynecology
Volume 5 (1997), Issue 2, Pages 115-120

Materno-Fetal Transmission of Human Immune Deficiency Virus

1Homboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany
2Frauenklinik und Polikinik, Augustenburger Platz 1, Berlin 13353, Germany

Received 1 October 1997; Accepted 21 October 1997

Copyright © 1997 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Mother-to-child transmission of human immune deficiency virus (HIV) is a multifactorial event highly associated with advanced maternal HIV disease and obstetric incidents taking place during parturition. Thus, various approaches to prevention may be beneficial. Although the time and the route of materno-fetal HIV transmission are still not sufficiently clear, much speaks in favor of a late HIV transmission, most probably taking place during parturition or the phase before the delivery. The fetus is remarkably protected by the placenta and the intact fetal membranes against many viral infections during gestation. These conditions change at parturition and the chance for a transition of HIV-infected carrier cells or virus into the fetal compartment increases. Proinflammatory cytokines secreted at the materno-fetal interface accumulate in amniotic fluid and may chemoattract and stimulate potentially HIV-infected immunocytes. After rupture of membranes, maternal cells of the decidua are directly exposed to the amniotic fluid. Aside from the contamination of the fetal skin at vaginal delivery as a debatable route of infection, blood-to-blood contacts and the fetal swallowing of contaminated amniotic fluid may be the major path of fetal HIV infection. For the fetal prophylaxis of an intrauterine infection, the application of zidovudine is recommended. However, cesarian section before the onset of labor leads also to a diminution of the transmission rate. As the transmission seems to have both systemic and local causes, it makes sense to combine different intervention strategies. Whether a combination of zidovudine and elective cesarean section can lower the transmission risk further has to be evaluated.