CORRECTED: HIV drugs make breast-feeding safer
(Corrects second paragraph to show babies, not mothers, got the drug and 6th paragraph to show babies got vitamins and not placebo.)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A drug that helps prevent babies from catching the AIDS virus at birth can also protect them while nursing, researchers reported on Monday.
Babies of HIV-infected women who were given the drug nevirapine while they breast-fed were half as likely to become infected, the researchers told a meeting in Boston of AIDS experts.
Nevirapine is already widely used to protect babies at birth. A single dose given to the mother as she goes into labor and to the baby at birth cuts transmission by 47 percent.
But babies continue to become infected after birth, via their mothers' breast milk, which can carry the virus. In many developing countries breast-feeding is the only option.
Dr. Brooks Jackson of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and colleagues in Ethiopia, India and Uganda wanted to see if they could safely continue giving the drug to babies for as long as six weeks.
They gave 2,000 new babies either nevirapine or a vitamin solution between 2001 and 2007.
"At 6 months of age, the risk of postnatal HIV infection or death in infants who received the six-week regimen was almost one-third less than the risk for infants given only a single dose," Johns Hopkins said in a statement.
The World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 infants are infected with the AIDS through breast-feeding each year. The fatal and incurable virus infects 33 million people globally.
Nevirapine is sold under the brand name Viramune by privately held Boehringer Ingelheim.
(Reporting by Maggie Fox, editing by Will Dunham and Cynthia Osterman)