Caring for a Child with HIV

Addressing Common Questions of Parents of an HIV Positive Child

Child's hands holding an HIV awareness ribbon
Child's hands holding an HIV awareness ribbon. Getty Images/BigFive Images

Though more adults suffer from HIV than children, there are families that must deal with the unique stresses, concerns, and questions of caring for a child with HIV. Naturally, you as parents worry about the health and well-being of your child. And make no mistake -- as your child gets older, he or she will have concerns, too.

Arming yourself with information can help you better understand your child's illness.

Let's address common questions faced by parents caring for children with HIV. 

Can My Child Play with Other Children At School?

Ryan White was a thirteen-year-old in 1984 when he was diagnosed with HIV. At that time, the disease was not well understood, and so Ryan faced prejudice and discrimination from his community in Kokomo, Indiana. Parents and officials feared that Ryan would spread his HIV to classmates through nothing more than casual contact.

But an HIV child is no risk to a friend or classmate he casually interacts with. HIV is not spread by playing together, sharing toys, drinking from the same cup, or eating from the same plate. Simply put, your child will not transfer HIV simply by being around other children.

What If My Child Gets Hurt and Starts Bleeding?

As a parent of a child with HIV, you need to be extra careful if your child gets hurts and starts bleeding.  Any bleeding cut, laceration, or abrasion could potentially expose other people to HIV-infected blood.

Be sure to use gloves when handling your child's wound and when cleaning up any blood. In addition, all cuts or lacerations should be covered to avoid exposing anyone to HIV-infected blood

As you should with any child, but especially with a child with HIV, keep an eye out for infection. Call or see your child's doctor right away if any redness, swelling, or drainage from the wound occurs.

How Can I Help My Child Avoid Being Teased?

We all know how mean, cruel, and brutally honest kids can sometimes be. Teasing, name calling, and making fun of other kids just because they are different can, unfortunately, become commonplace.

You should keep this in mind when discussing your child's illness or when helping your child take his or her daily medications. Having your son or daughter take necessary medications around friends and other children may cause embarrassment and emotional stress. Instead, arrange your child's medication schedule so that medications can be taken in a private location without distraction. This will improve adherence and help your child feel less stress.

Should My Child Get Immunized?

Yes. But some vaccines — like live vaccines — should be avoided in children with HIV or only given if their immune systems are at a certain level, based on their CD4 count. 

For example, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, currently recommends the chickenpox vaccine -- a live vaccine -- for HIV-infected children with CD4 counts greater than or equal to 15 percent. 

The ACIP does not recommend the combined MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) + VZV (varicella) vaccine, known as MMRV, in HIV-infected children.

It has not been studied in HIV infection and contains a higher level of virus than the varicella vaccine alone. 

Children with HIV should also receive the mumps and rubella vaccine, according to the CDC. The CDC also recommends the measles vaccine for children with HIV who have a CD4 percentage of at least fifteen. 

Other vaccines that children receive — regardless of their HIV status — include: 

  • Diphtheria
  • Tetanus
  • Pertussis
  • Polio (only inactivated polio)
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (HIB)
  • Pneumococcal
  • Meningococcal
  • Rotavirus
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Flu vaccine
  • HPV – there is still limited scientific data on giving the HPV vaccine to people with HIV

    Check with your pediatric HIV specialist to see what immunizations your son or daughter should receive and what vaccinations they have already had. Many vaccines are given as a series of several injections. Many require a booster later in life, so don't assume that your child will never need a vaccination again if he's already had one.

    There are some people who question the effectiveness and safety of immunizations, especially those for children. There are many sources of research that show that vaccines are both effective and safe for most people. If you have questions about whether a vaccine is necessary or safe for your child, talk to your HIV specialist.

    Final Thoughts

    Raising a child is a lifelong undertaking that can be difficult at times. But there is nothing, in my opinion, that is as rewarding. HIV doesn't have to change that fact.

    Learn all you can learn about the disease. See an HIV specialist on a regular basis, talk with and listen to your child, and most importantly, enjoy being a parent.


    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Immunization Schedule. Retrieved September 19th, 2015. 

    New York University Medical Center; "Children and HIV"; HIV; 22 Oct 2007.

    UCSF HIVInsite. (2014). Immunizations and HIV. Retrieved September 19th, 2015.