In a longitudinal cohort study the authors investigated factors contributing to breast milk HIV RNA viral load among lactating women in Lusaka, Zambia. Detailed data from 135 HIV-infected women were collected by questionnaires concerning postpartum maternal and infant health and infant feeding practice. Maternal blood was collected during pregnancy and at 6 weeks postpartum. Milk samples collected from each breast at 10 days and 6 weeks postpartum plus a subset collected at other time points were analyzed for HIV RNA viral load. Increased milk viral load was associated in univariate analyses with maternal symptoms of poor health, raised plasma alpha(1)-acid glycoprotein (AGP) at week 6, raised milk sodium/potassium (Na/K) ratio, postpartum need for antibiotics, preterm delivery, and low birth weight infants. In a multiple regression 49% of variability in mean milk viral load was explained by milk Na/K ratio and need for antibiotics, with borderline contributions from plasma AGP and plasma viral load. Maternal blood hemoglobin or receipt of iron supplements and infant feeding variables such as changing the infant's diet by moving from exclusive to nonexclusive breastfeeding or adding solid foods were not associated with milk viral load. Thus maternal health was the main factor contributing to milk viral load. The lack of effect of feeding practices on milk viral load and the previously determined association of poor maternal health with reduced duration of exclusive breastfeeding in this cohort suggest the relation between exclusive breastfeeding and decreased HIV transmission may be secondary to poor maternal health.
Phiri, W.; Kasonka, L.; Collin, S.; Makasa, M.; Sinkala, M.; Chintu, C.; Kasolo, F.; Kaseba, C.; Tomkins, A.M.; Filteau, S.M. Factors influencing breast milk HIV RNA viral load among Zambian women. AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses (2006) 22 (7) 607-614.