Washington : Two-thirds of families with an HIV-infected parent experienced fears about the virus spreading at home, according to a joint study.
The qualitative study is the first to interview multiple family members, including minor children, in families with an HIV-infected parent.
“We found that many of the worries were based on misconceptions about how HIV is spread,” said study co-author Burt Cowgill, staff researcher at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)/RAND Centre for Adolescent Health Promotion.
“We also learned that HIV-infected parents had legitimate concerns about contracting infections such as a cold, flu or chicken pox while caring for a sick child,” added Cowgill.
“This knowledge could help paediatricians to address children’s specific fears about HIV transmission as well as help clinicians who care for the HIV-infected parents.”
Between March 2004 and March 2005, the team conducted interviews with 33 HIV-infected parents, 27 of their children aged nine to 17, nineteen adult children and 15 caregivers (spouses, partners, grandparents or friends).
All HIV-infected parents had previously participated in RAND’s HIV Cost and Services Utilisation Study, a national probability sample of people over 18 with known HIV infection, according to a UCLA release.
Interview questions were open-ended and broad to elicit a detailed description of family members’ experiences. In addition, follow-up questions focused on whether respondents’ fears subsided over time and what was done in the household to address them.
In a majority of the families, participants reported HIV transmission-related fears in the household. Concerns included acquiring HIV through contact with blood from a parent’s cut, through saliva by sharing a bathroom or kissing, or by sharing food or beverages.
HIV-infected parents were also concerned about catching an opportunistic infection from a sick child or other family member, and they were especially concerned about caring for a child with chicken pox, a cold or the flu.
“Fears about disease may substantially affect the relationship between the HIV-infected parent and child,” said co-author Mark Schuster, chief of general paediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston and professor of paediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
“It is critical not only to provide children with age-appropriate information on how the disease is transmitted, but also to clear up any misconceptions.”
The findings are scheduled for publication in a forthcoming issue of Paediatrics.