A new study that was conducted on mice showed that breast milk prevented the transmission of HIV and in some cases effectively killed infected cells.
The study, which was released last week the journal PLoS Pathogens, stated that when breast milk was given to mice that had been infected with HIV, they actually showed signs that the virus was being killed. The breast milk was also able to prevent transmission in some of the test mice.
"The results of these experiments highlight the potent HIV inhibitory activity of normal human breast milk and demonstrate that the in vitro HIV inhibitory activity of human breast milk is also capable of efficiently preventing oral transmission of cell-free HIV," the study said.
The study was completed by researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, who used mice whose immune system was engineered to resemble that of a human. The mice were then feed HIV-infected breast milk from healthy human donors.
The researchers found that the virus could not be transmitted to the mice through the breast milk, and that the virus died when it entered the breast milk.
"We reinforced the belief, and we have solid data that milk is not a vehicle for transmission but may offer protection," according to Victor Garcia, professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina, and lead author of the study.
The World Health Organization stated that more than 15 percent of new HIV infections occur in children and if left untreated a mere 65 percent of HIV-infected children will live to see their first birthdays, and fewer than half will make it to the age of two.
There has been a long-standing belief that HIV-positive mothers should not breastfeed due to the potential risk of infecting their child, but there have been documented accounts of HIV-positive mothers who breastfeed their babies for a prolonged period of time without transmitting the virus to their children.
"One of the big breakthroughs of having this model is to look at what is affecting transmission," said Garcia. "If milk isn't it, then how is it being transmitted?"