The collaborative study by researchers from UCLA, the RAND Corp., Harvard University and Children's Hospital Boston has claimed that such fears originate mainly from lack of adequate information about the spread of the disease.
This is the first study interview multiple family members, including minor children, in families with an HIV-infected parent about their concerns over HIV transmission in the household.
"We found that many of the worries were based on misconceptions about how HIV is spread. 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. 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," said lead study author Burt Cowgill, a staff researcher at the UCLA|RAND Center for Adolescent Health Promotion.
The researchers conducted interviews with 33 HIV-infected parents, 27 of their minor children (ages 9 to 17), 19 adult children and 15 caregivers (spouses, partners, grandparents or friends) in the span of 1 year (March 2004-March2005).
All the HIV-infected parents in the study had earlier participated in the RAND Corp.'s HIV Cost and Services Utilization Study, a national probability sample of people over 18 with known HIV infection.
The questions in the interview were open-ended and broad to elicit a detailed description of family members' experiences. Besides, follow-up questions were targeted on whether respondents' fears curbed with time and if something was being done in the household to address them.
Participants in a large number of families reported HIV transmission-related fears in the household, which 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.
Parents with HIV feared about catching an opportunistic infection from a sick child or other family member, and they were more concerned about caring for a child with chicken pox, a cold or the flu.
And such families dealt with their fears by educating children about how HIV is spread and establishing household rules and taking precautions to reduce risks.
But, researchers observed that some of the fears were based on incorrect information and beliefs.
"Fears about disease may substantially affect the relationship between the HIV-infected parent and child. 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," said senior author Dr. Mark Schuster, chief of general paediatrics at Children's Hospital Boston and professor of paediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
The findings of the study will be published in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal Paediatrics.