PREGNANT women in Greater Glasgow are to be offered screening for HIV as part of routine blood testing.
From next month, new mums-to-be in the Greater Glasgow area will be screened for the illness during their normal antenatal tests - unless they decide to opt out.
The move is part of a national drive to cut down on the number of babies being born with the virus and comes after heterosexuals, rather than gay men or intravenous drug users, became the largest group of new diagnoses last year.
The screening is being carried out to identify HIV positive pregnant women who don't know they have been infected with the virus.
If a woman is found to have the virus, health staff can offer treatments – usually the antiviral treatment AZT - that will reduce the chances of the baby being born with HIV and lessen the effects of HIV on the mother's body.
Without treatment, one in six babies born to HIV positive women will become infected. With treatment, this is reduced to one in a hundred.
HIV positive mums-to-be will also be given the option of a caesarean delivery and will be encouraged to bottle feed rather than breastfeed – again cutting down on the risk of infecting the baby.
Dr Syed Ahmed, Consultant in Public Health with NHS Greater Glasgow, said: "Knowing a mother's HIV status is vital for the health of both for the mother and her unborn child.
"The earlier we know a woman is HIV positive, the better chance we have of preventing mother to baby transmission of the virus. By providing the mother with appropriate treatment, we can dramatically reduce the odds of her baby contracting HIV."
Dr Ahmed revealed that many people with HIV can live for years without any symptoms and only learn they have the virus when they become seriously ill.
He said: "Diagnosis is as important for the mother. Once we are aware of a woman's HIV diagnosis, we can then give her the correct treatment and lessen the effects of the virus on her body."
NOTES TO EDITORS:
Routine antenatal blood tests are usually carried out on a blood sample given by pregnant women early in their pregnancy. Health staff test for the mother's blood group and a range of conditions including anaemia and other infections such as Rubella (German Measles), Hepatitis B and Syphilis.
In 2002, eight babies were born to HIV positive mothers in Greater Glasgow – a significant increase on previous years where health professionals would only expect to see one or two babies born to HIV positive women a year.
Mother to baby transmission of HIV can occur in three ways: in the womb, at delivery or through breastfeeding.
Only a proportion of babies born to infected mothers will contract the illness. However, health professionals can further reduce the risk of mother to baby transmission through a variety of means:
Information: Dawn Nelson on 0141 201 4912 or email: [email protected]gghb.scot.nhs.uk