May 11, 2009
In an effort to help make breastmilk safer for infants born to HIV-positive women, Sera Young of the University of California-Davis is working with about 100 women in Tanzania and teaching them to pasteurize their milk at home through flash heating, or a double-boiling method. Young said that "as soon as the water boils, the milk has reached a hot enough temperature -- about 70 degrees Celsius -- to kill all of the HIV but maintain most of the integrity of the nutrients and the immunological properties." She adds that she hopes to learn whether women would be willing and able follow every step in the technique. According to Young, she has observed that women are able to follow it but added that women who feared revealing their HIV-positive status had more issues with the process, as people wondered why they were boiling their breastmilk.
According to Young, although the World Health Organization recommends that HIV-positive women self-pasteurize their milk, it previously was not known whether women found it feasible or acceptable to do so. She noted that researchers are planning to conduct a large clinical study that will provide the "statistical power to look at the differences between those children who received flash-heated milk and those who haven't," adding that knowing the health implications is crucial for HIV-positive women and their children (Hoban, VOA News, 5/7).