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HIV Home Care

What is HIV?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV infection means that the body's immune system may not fight off infections very well. Your child's body may not be able to fight back against illness, even a simple cold. Additional care is needed for a child with HIV to help him or her remain healthy.

How can you keep your child with HIV healthy?

Many medicines are available now to suppress (hold down) the HIV virus. These medicines do not cure the HIV infection, but can keep the virus undetectable for decades. One of the best ways to keep your child healthy is to make sure your child uses these medicines as directed by his or her healthcare provider. 

Helpful ideas include those you would use for any other child, such as proper hand-washing techniques. Clean hands help keep your child from catching colds and from developing other illnesses. Teach your child to wash his or her hands thoroughly at an early age.

Keeping healthy habits can prevent illness. Other ways you can help your child stay healthy include the following:

  • Nutrition. Make sure your child eats the right foods. This will give your child the energy needed to stay healthy:

    • Give your child 3 balanced meals a day and healthy snacks. If you have questions about choosing healthy foods for your child, ask your child's healthcare provider or a dietitian.

    • A dietitian can also help if your child has special feeding or eating problems, such as mouth sores, that make eating painful.

    • It's a good idea to be aware of any potential food interactions with your child's medicines.

  • Skin care. When your child has a cut or sore, the skin is open to germs and can become infected. Taking good care of your child's skin helps prevent infections and may help to keep your child healthy. Consider the following when caring for your child's skin:

    • Prevent injuries, such as cuts and scrapes. If minor injuries happen, clean them and apply antibiotic ointment. Cover them lightly with a bandage to keep them from getting infected. Wear gloves to prevent contact with your child's blood while tending to the wound.

    • Keep the skin clean by washing daily with mild soap and water. 

    • Keep dry areas of skin healthy by applying a moisturizing cream daily.

    • Talk with your child's healthcare provider right away if you notice a rash or unusual sore or cut, or if a cut is not healing normally. A diaper rash or white patches in your child's mouth may need additional treatment.

    • Talk with your child's healthcare team if you have any special questions or concerns about your child's skin care.

    • Make sure to apply sunscreen and insect repellent on your child whenever he or she is playing outside with uncovered skin.

  • Rest and relaxation. Being tired and stressed can make your child more likely to become sick. Consider the following to make sure your child is getting the appropriate rest and relaxation his or her body needs:

    • Normal play is important for your child.

    • Plan rest periods and have a regular bedtime for your child.

    • Make sure your child gets at least eight or more hours of sleep each night.

    • If your child seems worried or upset, talk with his or her social worker or a chaplain.

    • If you have special questions about your child's rest and sleep needs, talk with his or her healthcare team.

    • Use caution when allowing your child to have pets, or contact with other people's pets. Children should never be left with animals without supervision. Talk with your child's healthcare provider about any pets you have now, and/or before bringing home any new pets.

  • Medicines. Consider the following to ensure your child's medicine needs are being met:

    • Be sure your child takes any medicine his or her healthcare provider has ordered exactly as prescribed. Pill reminder boxes can be very useful.

    • Make sure you understand how much of each medicine you should give your child. Do not be afraid to ask questions if this is confusing.

    • Plan ahead for when you need refills. Do not run out of medicines. Forgetting or skipping doses of medicine can allow the virus to become resistant to your child's medicines. 

    • Talk with your child's healthcare provider regarding the recommended routine immunizations for your child, as well as for other family and household members.

    • If you have questions or problems with your child taking a medicine, talk with your child's healthcare team.

    • Make sure you check with your child's healthcare provider before taking any new medicines or stopping others.

How can you prevent the spread of HIV?

HIV may be spread from person-to-person when there is contact with infected blood or body fluids (rectal fluid, breastmilk, semen and vaginal fluid):

  • HIV can be spread:

    • Through sex with a person who carries HIV

    • By sharing drug needles

    • To babies born to mothers who carry HIV

    • To babies breastfed by an HIV-infected mother

    • To people who receive unscreened blood or blood products that contain HIV

    • When an uninfected person having an open wound (mucous membrane, damaged tissue) or scratch come into contact with the blood or body fluids (rectal fluid, vaginal fluid, breastmilk, semen) of an infected person 

  • HIV cannot be spread by:

    • Hugging a person with HIV

    • Swimming in public pools or hot tubs

    • Sharing a drinking glass

    • Sharing toilets

    • Going to school

How do you care for a child with HIV?

You should use universal precautions for any contact with blood, whether your child is known to be HIV-infected or not. These precautions include the following:

  • Wear latex or vinyl gloves when you need to touch the HIV-infected person's blood and body fluids.

  • Clean up blood and body fluid spills with a mixture of bleach and water. Mix 1/4 cup of bleach with 2 cups of water.

  • Wash clothes soiled with blood and body fluids with soapy water. Bleach or nonchlorine bleach may be used to help get stains out. Items that cannot be washed should be put in a plastic bag and thrown away.

  • Do not share razors or toothbrushes with an HIV-infected person.

If your child has HIV, you can help prevent him or her from spreading HIV by teaching him or her some basic rules, such as how to manage a nosebleed or cut:

  • Instruct your child to carry a clean handkerchief.

  • Cover the cut tightly with the handkerchief. 

  • Do not allow anyone to touch the blood with bare hands. 

When should my child see his or her healthcare provider?

Keeping your child's healthcare appointments is very important. You will also need to know when to bring your child in for care when he or she is getting sick. Your child should see his or her healthcare provider if he or she:

  • Has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your child's healthcare provider

  • Has shortness of breath or a cough

  • Has a change in bowel movements

  • Has a skin rash including diaper rash, sores on the skin or in the mouth, or white patches in the mouth

  • Has behavioral changes

  • Bleeds or bruises for unknown reasons

  • Has severe pain

  • Has ear pain or fluid drainage from the ear

  • Has been in contact with someone who has a contagious illness (especially chickenpox)

Talk with your child's healthcare provider for more information.

Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Lentnek, Arnold, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2016
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.