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J Pediatric Infect Dis Soc. 2016 Jun;5(2):138-46. doi: 10.1093/jpids/piw015. Epub 2016 Apr 21.

Increased Cytomegalovirus Secretion and Risks of Infant Infection by Breastfeeding Duration From Maternal Human Immunodeficiency Virus Positive Compared to Negative Mothers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Faculties of Infectious and Tropical Diseases Virology.
Faculties of Infectious and Tropical Diseases.
Epidemiology and Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London, United Kingdom.
Obstetrics Unit, University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka, Zambia.



Breastfeeding imparts beneficial immune protection and nutrition to infants for healthy growth, but it is also a route for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection. In previous studies, we showed that HCMV adversely affects infant development in Africa, particularly with maternal HIV exposure. In this study, we analyzed infants risks for acquisition of HCMV infection from breastfeeding and compared HIV-positive and HIV-negative mothers.


Two cohorts were studied in Zambia. (1) Two hundred sixty-one HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected mothers were compared for HCMV deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) loads and genotypes (glycoprotein gO) in milk from birth to 4 months postpartum. (2) Maternally HIV-exposed and HIV-unexposed infants were compared for HCMV infection risk factors. The second cohort of 460 infants, from a trial of micronutrient-fortified complementary-food to breastfeeding, were studied between 6 and 18 months of age. Human cytomegalovirus seroprevalence was assayed, and logistic regression was used to calculate risk factors for HCMV infection, including maternal HIV exposure and breastfeeding duration.


Human cytomegalovirus was detected in breast milk from 3 days to 4 months postpartum, with significantly raised levels in HIV-positive women and independent of genotype. In infants, HCMV antibody seroprevalence was 83% by 18 months age. Longer breastfeeding duration increased infection risk in maternally HIV-unexposed (odds ratio [OR] = 2.69 for 18 months vs <12 months; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.84-8.59; P = .03) and HIV-exposed infants (OR = 20.37 for >6 months vs never; 95% CI, 3.71-111.70; P < .001).


Prolonged breastfeeding, which is common in Africa, increased risk of HCMV infection in infants. Both HIV-positive and HIV-negative women had extended milk HCMV secretion. Women who were HIV-positive secreted higher HCMV levels, and for longer duration, with their children at increased infection risk. Human cytomegalovirus control is required to maintain health benefits of breastfeeding.


HCMV; HIV-exposed infants; breast milk; infant HIV; maternal HIV

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