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Sensitive detection methods, such as DNA PCR and RNA PCR suggest that vertical transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) occurs at three major time periods; in utero, around the time of birth, and postpartum as a result of breastfeeding (Fig. 1). Detection of proviral DNA in infant's blood at birth suggests that transmission occurred prior to delivery. A working definition for time of infection is that HIV detection by DNA PCR in the first 48 h of life indicates in utero transmission, while peripartum transmission is considered if DNA PCR is negative the first 48 h, but then it is positive 7 or more days later [1]. Generally, in the breastfeeding population, breast milk transmission is thought to occur if virus is not detected by PCR at 3–5 months of life but is detected thereafter within the breastfeeding period [2]. Using these definitions and guidelines, studies has suggested that in developed countries the majority, or two thirds of vertical transmission occur peripartum, and one-third in utero [3–6]. The low rate of breastfeeding transmission is due to the practice of advising known HIV-positive mothers not to feed breast milk. However, since the implementation of antiretroviral treatment in prophylaxis of HIV-positive mothers, some studies have suggested that in utero infection accounts for a larger percentage of vertical transmissions [7]. In developing countries, although the majority of infections occurs also peripartum, a significant percentage, 10–17%, is thought to be due to breastfeeding [2, 8, 9].

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