The physical and psychological effects of HIV infection and its treatment on perinatally HIV-infected children

Rachel C. Vreeman, Michael L. Scanlon, Megan S. McHenry, Winstone M. Nyandiko

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

20 Scopus citations


Introduction: As highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) transforms human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) into a manageable chronic disease, new challenges are emerging in treating children born with HIV, including a number of risks to their physical and psychological health due to HIV infection and its lifelong treatment. Methods: We conducted a literature review to evaluate the evidence on the physical and psychological effects of perinatal HIV (PHIV+) infection and its treatment in the era of HAART, including major chronic comorbidities. Results and discussion: Perinatally infected children face concerning levels of treatment failure and drug resistance, which may hamper their long-term treatment and result in more significant comorbidities. Physical complications from PHIV+ infection and treatment potentially affect all major organ systems. Although treatment with antiretroviral (ARV) therapy has reduced incidence of severe neurocognitive diseases like HIV encephalopathy, perinatally infected children may experience less severe neurocognitive complications related to HIV disease and ARV neurotoxicity. Major metabolic complications include dyslipidaemia and insulin resistance, complications that are associated with both HIV infection and several ARV agents and may significantly affect cardiovascular disease risk with age. Bone abnormalities, particularly amongst children treated with tenofovir, are a concern for perinatally infected children who may be at higher risk for bone fractures and osteoporosis. In many studies, rates of anaemia are significantly higher for HIV-infected children. Renal failure is a significant complication and cause of death amongst perinatally infected children, while new data on sexual and reproductive health suggest that sexually transmitted infections and birth complications may be additional concerns for perinatally infected children in adolescence. Finally, perinatally infected children may face psychological challenges, including higher rates of mental health and behavioural disorders. Existing studies have significant methodological limitations, including small sample sizes, inappropriate control groups and heterogeneous definitions, to name a few. Conclusions: Success in treating perinatally HIV-infected children and better understanding of the physical and psychological implications of lifelong HIV infection require that we address a new set of challenges for children. A better understanding of these challenges will guide care providers, researchers and policymakers towards more effective HIV care management for perinatally infected children and their transition to adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20258
JournalJournal of the International AIDS Society
StatePublished - Dec 2 2015


  • Adolescents
  • Children
  • Development
  • HIV comorbidities
  • Perinatal HIV infection
  • Psychological complications

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases

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