Risk of birth defects appears low for women on antiretrovirals during early pregnancy

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Among pregnant women infected with HIV, the use of antiretroviral (ARV) medications early in pregnancy to treat their HIV or to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV does not appear to increase the risk of birth defects in their infants, according to a new study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). It is one of the largest studies to date to look at the safety of ARV use during pregnancy.

While the study found that overall risk was low — in keeping with previous research that has found ARV use in pregnancy to be generally safe — the researchers did find that one ARV drug, atazanavir, was associated with increased risk of birth defects and they said it should be studied further.

“This study suggests that the benefits of using ARVs during pregnancy still far outweigh the risks for HIV-infected women, although they also indicate a need for continued monitoring,” said Paige Williams, senior lecturer on biostatistics at HSPH and the study’s lead author.